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l^arbarti tLoIlrgc 2.;br.u-£ 

C H V K r. i;r-^ Ml NOT 

'<l:iHH of IH-iH . 

K.ciivod ^'2/ fjcif-^ i^yc 








^ Henry S. King & Co., 



{All Rifrftts reserved.) 



The attempt made in this volume to connect the study 
of Shakspere's works with an inquiry after the personality 
of the writer, and to observe, as far as is possible, in its 
several stages the growth of his intellect and character 
from youth to full maturity, distinguishes the work from 
the greater number of preceding criticisms of Shakspere. 
A sense of hazard and difficulty necessarily accompanies 
the attempt to pass through the creations of a great 
dramatic poet to the mind of the creator. Still no one, 
I suppose, would maintain that a product of mind, so 
large and manifold as the writings of Shakspere, can fail 
in some measure to reveal its origin and cause. 

The reader must not fall into the error of supposing 
that I endeavour to identify Shakspere with any one of 
his dramatic personages. The complex nature of the 
poet contained a love-idealist like Romeo — (students of 
the Sonnets will not find it difficult to admit the possi- 
bility of this) ; it contained a speculative intellect like 
that of Hamlet. But the complete Shakspere was un- 
like Romeo, and unlike Hamlet. Still it is evident, 
not fix)m one play, but from many, that the struggle 
between "blood" and "judgment" was a great affair of 

vi Preface. 

Shakspere's life ; and in all his later works we observe 
the effort to control a wistful curiosity about the mys- 
teries of human existence. And therefore, I say, a 
potential Bomeo and a potential Hamlet, taking these 
names as representative of certain spiritual tendencies or 
habits, existed in Shakspere. Nor do I identify Shak- 
spere with Prospero; although Shakspere's temper in 
the plays of the last period is the temper of Prospero. 
It would not be easy to picture to ourselves the great 
magician waited on by such ministering spirits as Sir 
John Falstaff, Sir Toby Belch, and the Nurse of Jidiet. 

In order to get substantial ground to go upon I have 
thought it necessary to form acquaintance with a con- 
siderable body of recent Shakspere scholarship, both 
English and C!ontinental. But I avoid the discussion of 
purely scholastic questions. To approach Shakspere on 
the human side is the object of this book ; but I believe 
that Shakspere is not to be approached on any side 
through dilettantism. 

I have carefuUy acknowledged my obligations to pre- 
ceding writers. In working out the general design and 
main features of this study, I was able to obtain little 
help ; but in details I obtained much. My references 
express, I may say, considerably more than my actual 
debt ; for in those instances in which I found that my 
thought had been anticipated, and well expressed else- 
where, I have noted the coincidence. Doubtless many 
instances of such coincidence remain unobserved by me. 
Since I wrote the chapter in which " The Tempest " is con- 
sidered, I have read for the first time Lloyd's essay upon 

Preface. vii 

the play, and I have found some striking and satisfactory 
points of agreement between myself and that good critic. 

In all essentials I have adhered to the chronological 
method of studying Shakspere's writings. But it seemed 
pedantry to sacrifice certain advantages of contrast and 
comparison to a procedure in every instance, from play 
to play, according to dates. Thus, in the chapter on the 
English BKstorical Plays I have, for convenience of illus- 
tration, treated Henry YL after King John and before 
Richard III. In the opening of the eighth chapter I 
have explained what I believe to be the right manner of 
using the chronological method. I have called '' The 
Tempest " Shakspere's last play, but I am quite willing 
to grant that " A Winter's Tale," " Henry VIII," and 
perhaps " Cymbeline," may actually have succeeded 
" The Tempest." For the purposes of such a study as 
the present, if it be admitted that these plays belong to 
one and the same period, — ^the final period of the 
growth of Shakspere's art, — ^it matters little how the 
plays succeeded one another within that period. 

I refer in one passage to Henry VIII., Act iv., Scene 
2, as if written by Shakspere. The scene was, I believe, 
conceived by Shakspere, and carried out in the spirit of 
his design by Fletcher. 

About half of this volume was read in the form of 
lectures ("Saturday Lectures in connection with Alexandra 
College, Dublin "), in the Museum 'Buildings, Trinity Col- 
lege, Dublin, during the spring of the year, 1874. 

In some instances I have referred to, and quoted from 
papers by the Rev. F. G. Fleay as read at meetings of 



"The New Shakspere Society," but which have not 
received the final corrections of their author. 

In seeing this volume through the press, I received 
valuable suggestions and corrections from Mr Harold 
Littledale, the editor for " The New Shakspere Society " 
of "The Two Noble Kinsmen," for which I thank him. 

I have to thank the Director of " The New Shakspere 
Society," Mr F. J. Fumivall, for permission to print the 
" Trial Table of the order of Shakspere's Plays," which 
appears in his introduction to the new edition of Shake- 
speare Commentaries by Gervinus. 


[Thifl, like all other tables, must be lookt on as merely tentative, and open to 
modification for any good reasons. But if only it oomes near the truth, 
then reading the plays in its order will the sooner enable the student to 
find out its mistakes. (M. stands for " mentioned by Francis Meres in 
his Palladia Tamia, 1598.")] 

In his Introductory Essays to Shaketpeare's Dramatucke Werke (German 
Shakespeare Society) Prof. Hertf.berg dates Titus 1587-9, L(n>e*s Lahour't 
Lost J 1692, Comedy of Errors about New Year's Day 1691, Two Gentlemen^ 
1592, All's Well 1603, Trail us and Crfssida 1603, and Ci/mbeline 1611. 



Date of 



FiEST Pbeiod. 


Venus and Adonis . 



Titus Andronicus toucht up . 

(?) 1588 

1594 M 

[(?) 1594] 1600 


Love's Labour's Lost 


1598 M 

1598 (amended) 

[Love's Labour's Wonne 
Comedy of Errors . 


1598 M 


1594 M 



Midsummer Night's Dream \ 
(? two dates) . . .f 
Two Gentlemen of Verona . 


1598 M 




1598 M 



(?) 1 Henry VI. toucht up . 
(?) Troilns and Cressida, begun 
(?) Lucrece .... 
Komeo and Juliet . 

(?) 1590-2 




(?) 1591-3 

1696 M 


(?) A Lover's Complaint 


Richard II 





Richard III 


? 1595 M 



2 & 8 Henry VI. re-cast 

(?) 1594-5 





1598 M 


Preface^ ix 

Tbial Tabli of thi Ordsb of Shakbpub'b PL4T8— Cm/matMi. 



Date of 




HerohABtofyemoe . . 

(1) 1696-7 

1698 M 


Tamingof the Shrew, part . 


1 Henry IV. . , . . 


1698 M 


2HeiiiyIV. . 
Merry WiTe». 


1698 M 





Henry V. . 




Huoh Ado . 




Ab yoa Like it 




Twelfth Night 




All'.Well (?L'8.L.Wonnere.<ja8t) 




(?) 1692-1602 

1698 M 


Thxbd FxRioa 


(?) 1608 



Meaaure for MeMora 

JuliuB Cmar .... 

(?) 1601-8 






MUcbeth .... 





TroQus k Cremda (0 completed 




Antony and Cleopatra . 
Ooriolanus .... 

(?) 1607-8 

1608 (?) 


Timon, part . . ... 



Peridee^part . . . 
Two Noble Kinnnen 





CymUline .... 
Winter's Tale . . . 









Henry VIII., part . . . 


1618 (?) 


* Enterd 1 year before at Stationers' HalL 
f Enterd 2 yean before at Stationers' Hall. 
X May be lookt-on as fairly certain. 
§ Enterd in the Stationers' Registers in 1600. 
II ' The Taming of a Shrew ' was publisht in 1694. 









HAMLET, . . . * . 95 






THE ROMAN PLATS, ...... 276 





Shakspere— His Mind and Art. 



In these chapters an attempt will be made to present a 
view or aspect of a great poet, and the first word must 
explain precisely what such a view or aspect is worth, 
what it professes to be, and what it disc&ims. Dr 
Newman, in his "Grammar of Assent," has distinguished 
two modes of apprehending propositions. There is what 
he calls the real apprehension of a proposition, and there 
is the notional apprehension. In real apprehension 
there is the perception of some actual, concrete, indi- 
vidual object, either with the eye or some bodily sense, 
or with the mind's eye — memory, or imagination. But 
our minds are not so constructed as to be able to re- 
ceive and retain only an exact image of each of the 
objects that comes before us one by one, in and for 
itself. On the contrary, we compare and contrast. 

We see at once "that man is like man, yet unlike ; and 
unlike a horse, a tree, a moimtain, or a monument. And 
in consequence we are ever grouping and discriminating, 


2 Shakspere—His Mind and Art. 

measuring and sounding, framing cross classes, and cross 
divisions, and thereby rising from particulars to generals, 
that is, from images to notions. . . . ' Man ' is no longer 
what he really is, an individual presented to us by our 
senses, but as we read him in the light of those compari- 
sons and contrasts which we have made him suggest to us. 
He is attenuated into an aspect, or relegated to his 
place in a classification. Thus his appellation is made 
to suggest, not the real being which he is in this or that 
specimen of himself, but a definition." Thus individual 
propositions about the concrete, in the mind of a thinker 
whose intellect works in the way of notional apprehen- 
sion, "almost cease to be, and are diluted or starved 
into abstract notions. The events of history and the 
characters who figure in it lose their individuality." 

Now it is not such an aspect, such a view of Shaks- 
pere which it is here attempted to present. To come 
into close and living relation with the individuality of 
a poet must be the chief end of our study — to receive 
from his nature the peculiar impulse and impression 
which he, best of all, can give. We must not attenuate 
Shakspere to an aspect, or reduce him to a definition, or 
deprive him of individuality, or make of him a mere 
notion. Yet also no experiment will here be made to 
bring Shakspere before the reader as he spoke, and 
walked, as he jested in his tavern^ or meditated in his 
solitude. It is a real apprehension of Shakspere's char- 
acter and genius which is desired, but not such an 
apprehension as mere observation of the externals of the 
man, of his life or of his poetry would be likely to pro- 
duce. I wish rather to attain to some central principles 

Shakspere and the Elizabethan Age. 3 

of life in him i^hich animate and control the rest, for 
such there are existent in every man whose life is life 
in any true sense of the word, and not a mere affair of 
chance, of impulse, of moods, and of accidents. 

In such a study as this we endeavour to pass 
through the creation of the artist to the mind of 
the creator : but it by no means prevents our re- 
turning to view the work of art simply as such, apart 
&om the artist, and as such to receive delight 
from it. Nay, in the end it augments our delight 
by enabling us to discover a mass of fact which would 
otherwise be overlooked. To enjoy the beauty of a land- 
scape it is not necessary to understand the nature and 
arrangement of the rocks which underlie or rise up from 
the soil. While studying the stratification of those 
rocks we absolutely lose sight of the beauty of the land- 
scape. Nevertheless, a larger mass of pleasure is in the 
end possessed by one who adds to his instinctive spon- 
taneous feeling of delight, a knowledge of the geology of 
the country. In like manner, while the study of anatomy 
is quite distinct from the pleasure which the sight of a 
beautiful human body gives, yet, in the end, the sculptor 
who adds to his instinctive, spontaneous delight in the 
beauty of moulded form, and moving limb, a knowledge 
of human anatomy receives a mass of pleasure greater 
than that of one who is unacquainted with the facts of 
structure and function. There is an obvious cause of 
this. The geologist and the anatomist see more, and 
see a new class of phenomena, which produce new de- 
lights. The lines of force in a landscape to which an 
ordinary observer is entirely insensible, come out to the 

4 Shakspere — His Mind and Art. 

instructed eye, and give it thrills of strong emotion, like 
those which we receive from the athletes or the gods of 
Michael Angelo. The lines of force are drawn in the 
granite and the sandstone dififerently, and hence an end- 
less variety of delights corresponding to the infinite 
variety of the disposition of its rock-forces by Nature. 
We do not only understand better what is before us ; 
we enjoy it more. We are not attenuating it to an 
aspect, or inobservant of its individuality ; we are, on 
the contrary, penetrating to the centre of that individu- 
ality. It is generally not until the dominant lines of 
force are clearly perceived that we can group in just pro- 
portions the minor details which investigation presents 
to our notice. 

One who stands in the Sistine Chapel at Rome, and 
looks up to its ceiling, must in due time become aware 
of his own spirit as if it were some over-burdened cary- 
atid, sustaining the weight of the thought of Michael 
Angelo. The first effort — and it is no trivial effort — 
must be to raise oneself to the height of the great argu- 
ment. Merely to conceive prophet, or sibyl, primitive 
man or the awful demiurge, as placed before one's eyes, 
is an exercise which demands concentration of self, and 
abandonment of the world, — an exercise which strains 
and exhausts the imagination. To ascend from this to 
a comprehension of the total product, — to feel the stu- 
pendous life which animates not alone each single figure, 
rapt or brooding, but which circles through them all, 
which plays from each to the other, and forms the one 
vital soul that lies behind this manifold creation — ^to 
achieve this is something rarer and more difficult. But 

Shakspere and the Elizaiethan Age. 5 

there is a yet higher ascension possibla These vast 
creations, and much beside these, St Peter's at Rome, 
the David at Florence, the Slaves of the Louvre, the 
Last Judgment, the Moses, the Tombs of the Medici, the 
Poems for Yittoria Colonna, — ^all these are less than 
Michael Angelo. These were the projections of a single 
mind. There is something higher and more wonderful 

' than St Peter's, or the Last Judgment — ^namely, the 
mvnd which flung these creations into the world. And 
yet, it is when we make the effort which demands our 
most concentrated and most sustained energy, — it is 
when we strive to come into presence of the living 

' mind of the creator, that the sense of struggle and 
effort is relieved. We are no longer surrounded by a 
mere, world of thoughts and imaginations which, in an 
almost selfish way, we labour to appropriate and 
possess. We are in company with a man ; and a sense 

^ of real human sympathy and fellowship rises within us. 

^ Virtue goes out of him. We are conscious of his 

"^ strength communicating itself to us. We may not over- 
master him, and pluck out the heart of his mystery; 
yet it is good to remain in his companionship. There 

* is something in this invigorating struggle with a nature 

* greater than one's own which unavoidably puts on in 
one's imagination, the shape of the Hebrew story of 

, Peniel. We wrestle with an unknown man until the 
, breaking of the day. We say, " Tell me, I pray thee, 

thy name ? " and he will not tell it. But though we 
« cannot compel him to reveal his secret, we wrestle with 
, him still. We say, " I will not let thee go, except thou 

bless me." And the blessing is obtained. 

6 Shakspere — His Mind and Art 

If to lay hold of Michael Angelo and to strive with 
him be the most strenuous feat achievable by the 
critical imagination in the world of plastic art, to deal 

\ with Shakspere requires more endurance, a firmer 
nerve, and a finer cunning. The great ideal, artist, a 
Milton, a Michael Angelo, a Dante, betrays himself in 
spite of the haughtiest reserve. But Shakspere, if an 
idealist, was also above all else a realist in art, and lurks 
almost impregnably behind his work. " The secrets of 

' nature have not more gift in taciturnity." * And yet 
some few of the secrets of nature can be wrested from 
her. But Shakespere possessed that most baffling of 
self-defences — hiiTncmr. Just when we have laid hold 
of him, he eludes us, and we hear only distant ironical 
laughter. What is to be done ? How shall a 
dramatist — a dramatist possessed of humour — ^be 
cheated of his privacy ? How shall his reserve be over- 
mastered ? How shall we interrogate him ? Is there 
any magic word which will compel him to put off 
disguise, and declare himself in his true shape ? 

If we could watch his writings closely, and observe 

, their growth, the laws of that growth would be 
referable to the nature of the man, and to the 
nature of his environment. And we might even be 
able to refer to one and the other of these two 
factors producing a common residtant, that which is 
specially due to each. Fortunately the succession of 
Shakspere's writings (although it is probable that 
neither external nor internal evidence will ever suffice 

t to make the chronology certain and precise), is 
* TroiluB and Gressida, Act iy., Scene 2. 

Shakspere atid the Elizabethan Age. 7 

sufficiently ascertained to enable us to study the main 
features of the growth of Shakspere as an artist and as 
a man. We do not now place " A Midsummer Night's 
Dream" and "The Tempest" side by side as Shak- 
spere's plays of fairyland. We know that a long 
interval of time lies between the two, and that if 
they resemble one another in superficial or accidental 
circumstances, they must differ to the whole extent of 
\ the difference between the youthful Shakspere, and 
the mature, experienced, fiilly-developed man. Much is 
due to the industry of Malone ; much to the ingenuity 
and industry of recent Shakspere scholars who, in the 
changes which took place in the poet's manner of writing 
verse have foimd an index, trustworthy in the main, to 
the true chronology of the plays.* 

It will be well first to stand away from Shakspere, 
and to view him as one element in a world larger than 
himself In order that an organism — ^plant or animal 
— should exist at all, there must be a certain corre- 
spondence between the organism and its environment. 

♦ Mr Spedding, in his articl©, "Who wrote Henry VIII?" {QtnJUU- 
marCi Magaziney Aagust, 1S50) first applied quftntitative criticism of 
verse peculiarities to the study of Shakspere's writings. Mr Charles 
Bathurst, in ''Remarks on the Differences of Shakespeare's Versification 
in different Periods of his Life '' (London, 1S57), called attention to the 
1 change '* from broken to intermpted verse ** which took place as Shaks- 
pere advanced in his dramatic career ; and observed also the increase 
in the use of double-endings in his later plays. Professor Craik, in his 
« English of Shakespere," and Professor J. K. Ingram, in a lecture upon 
Shdkspere published in '* Afternoon Lectures'' (Bell and Daldy, 1863), 
again called attention to these peculiarities of versification as affording 
evidence for the ascertainment of the chronology of the plays. Finally, 
about the same time in England and in Germany, two investigators — 
Bev. F. G. Fleay and Professor Hertaberg^began to apply " quantita- 
tive criticism " of the characteristics of verse to the determination of the 

8 Shakspere — His Mind and Art. 

If it be found to thrive and flourish, we infer that such 
, correspondence is considerable. Now we know some- 
thing of the Elizabethan period, and we know that 
Shakspere was a man who prospered in that period. 
In that special environment Shakspere throve : he put 
forth his blossoms and bore fruit. And in the smaller 
matter of material success he flourished also. In an 
Elizabethan atmosphere he reached his fuU stature, and 
became not only great and wise, but famous, rich, and 
happy. Can we discover any significance in these facts ? 
We are told that Shakspere " was not of an age, but for 
all time." That assertion misleads us ; and indeed in 
the same poem to the memory of his friend from which 
these words are taken, Ben Jonson apostrophises his 
great rival as '* Soul of the Age." Shakspere was for 
all time by virtue of certain powers and perceptions, 
but he also belonged especially to an age, his own age, 
the age of Spenser, Baleigh, Jonson, Bacon, Burleigh, 
^ Hooker, — a Protestant age, a monarchical age, an age 
eminently positive and practical. A man does not 
attain to the universal by abandoning the particular, nor 

dates of plays. The test on which Hertzberg chiefly relies is the femi- 
nine (doable) ending ; he gives the percentage of such endings in seven- 
teen plays, and believes that the percentage indicates their chronolo- 
gical order. See the preface to Cymbelino in the German Shakespeare 
Society's edition of Tieck*s and Schlegel's translation. Mr Fleay's 
results, independently ascertained, were published subsequently to 
Hertzberg's. See Trans. New Sh. Soc., and Macmillan^s Magazine^ 
Sept. 1874. In 1873 Mr Fumivall, in founding the New Shakspere 
Society,— before he was aware that Mr Fleay's work was in progress,— 
insisted on the importance of metrical tests for determining the chron- 
ology, and gave the proportion of stopt to unstopt lines in three early 
and three late plays. The latest contribution to the subject is Profes- 
Bor Ingram's valuable paper read before the New Sh. Soa on the 
« Weak-ending" Test. 

Shakspere and the Elizabethan Age. 9 

to the everlafiting by an endeavour to overleap the limi- 
tations of time and place. The abiding reality exists 
not somewhere apart in the air, but under certain tem- 
porary and local forms of thought, feeling, and endeavour. 
We come most deeply into communion with the per- 
manent facts and forces of human nature and human 
life, by accepting first of all this fact, — that a definite 
point of observation and sympathy, not a vague nowhere, 
has been assigned to each of us. 

What is the ethical significance of that literary 
movement to which Shakspere belonged, and of which 
be was a part — the Elizabethan drama ? The question 
seems at first improper. There is perhaps no body of 
literature which has less of an express tendency for the 
intellect than the drama of the age of Elizabeth. It is 
the outcome of a rich and manifold life ; it is fuU of 
a sense of enjoyment, and overflowing with energy ; but 
it is for the most part absolutely devoid of a conscious 
purpose. Th^ chief play-wright of the movement de- 
clared that the end of playing, " both at the first and 
now, was and is to hold as 'twere the mirror up to 
nature." A mirror has no tendency. The questions 
we ask about it are, " Does this mirror reflect clearly 
and faithfully \ " and " In what direction is it turned \ * 
Capacity for perceiving, for enjoying, and for reproducing 
facts, and facts of as great variety as possible, — ^this 
was the qualification of a dramatist in the days of 
Elizabeth. The facts were those of human passion, and 
human activity. He needed not, as each of our poets 
at the present time needs, to have a doctrine, or a reve- 
lation, or an interpretation. The mere fact was enough 

I o Shakspere — His Mind and Art. 

without any theory about the fact ; and this fisu^ men 
saw more in its totality, more in the round, because 
they approached it in the spirit of frank enjoyment. It 
was not for them attenuated into an aspect, or relegated 
to a class. 

A"^ In the Renascence and Reformation period life had 
grown a real thing, — ^this life on earth for three score 
years and ten. The terror and sadness of the Middle 
Ages, the abandonment of earthly joy, the wistfulness 
* and pathos of spiritual desire, and on the other hand, 
the scepticism, irony, and sensuality under the ban 
were things which, as dominant forms of human life, 
had passed away. The highest mediaeval spirits were 
those which had felt with most intensity that we are 

, strangers and pilgrims here on earth, that we have no 
abiding place among human loves and human sorrows, 
that life is of little worth except with reference to in- 
finite, invisible antecedents and issues in other worlds. 
With all his tender affinities to the brotherhood of ele- 
mental powers, and of animals. Saint Francis felt allied 
to these as brethren only because they had ceased to be 
rivals for his heart with the supreme lover, Jesus. The 
deepest religious voice of the Middle Ages couples in a 
single breath the words de imitcUione Christi and de 
cantemptu omnium vanitatum mundi. It is the 
ascetic quester, Qalahad, with vision undimmed by any 
mist of earthly passion, who beholds the mystical Grail. 
Angelico paints paradise, and, because the earth can 
afford no equal beauty, then paradise again ; below the 

' glory of seraphim and cherubim appear the homely 
faces of priest and monk, transported into the pellucid 

Shakspere and the Elizabethan Age. 1 1 

and changeless atmosphere of heaven^ for these men had 
abandoned earth, and may therefore inherit perpetual 
blessedness. Dante — filled with keen political passion 
as he was — finds his subjects of highest imaginative 
interest not in the life of Florence, and Pisa, and 
Verona, but in circles of Hell, and the mount of Purga- 
tory, and the rose of beatified spirits. Human love 
ceases to be adequate for the needs of his adult heart ; 
the woman who was dearest to him ceases to be woman, 
and is sublimed into the supernatural wisdom of theology. 

While the world was thus given qye'r to Satan, those 
who were lacking in the spiritual jyi^ssion, and who could 
not abandon this world, closed a bargain with the evil 
One. Together with the world and the flesh they 
accepted the devil, as in the legend Faustus does, and 
as Boccaccio did in fact. Our imagination can hardly 
find a place for Shakspere in any part of the Middle 
Ages. Either they would transform him, or he would 
confound and disorganise them. With his ever present 
sense of truth, his realization of fact, and especially of 
that great fact, a moral order of the universe, we cannot 
think of Shakspere among the men of pleasure, sceptic- 
ism, and irony; he could not stay his energy or his 
humour with the shallow lubricities of Boccaccio. Neither 
can we picture to ourselves an ascetic Shakspere, sup- 
pressing his desire of knowledge, transforming his hearty 
sense of nattural enjoyment into curiosities of mystic joy, 
exh&ling his strength in sighs after an " Urbs beata 
lerusalem," or in tender lamentation over the vanity of 
human love and human grief 

But in the Renascence and Reformation period, in- 

1 2 Shakspere — His Mind and Art. 

stead of substituting^ supernatural powers, and persons, 
and events for the natural facts of the world, men re- 
curred to those facts, and found in them inspiration and 
stistenance for heart, and intellect, and conscience. Of 
paradise men knew somewhat less than Angelico had 
known, or Dante ; but they saw that this earth is good. 
Physical nature was not damnable ; the outlying regions 
of the earth were not all tenanted by vampyres and 
devils. Sir John Mandeville brought back stories of 
obscure valleys communicating with hell, and haunted 
by homicidal demons ; Raleigh brought back the tobacco 
plant and the potato. In the college of his New At- 
lantis Bacon erects a statue to the inventor of sugar. 
Dreams of unexplored regions excited the imagination 
of Spaniard and Englishman in the later Renascence ; 

* but it was of El Dorado they dreamed, with its gold- 
roofed city, and auriferous sands. Hardy men went 
forth to establish plantations and possess the earth. And 
as these were eager to acquire power over the physical 
world by extending in the Indies and America the domi- 
nion of civilised man, others were no less eagerly engaged 
in endeavouring to extend, by means of scientific dis- 
covery, the dominion of man over all forces and provinces 
of nature. The student of science was not now a magi- 
cian, a dealer in the black art, in miracles of the diabolic 
kind ; he pleaded in the courts, he held a seat in parlia- 
ment, he became Lord Chancellor of England. It was 
ascertained that heaven was not constructed of a series 
of spheres moving over and around the earth, but that 

^ the earth was truly in heaven. This is typical of the 
moral discovery of the time. Men found that the earth 

Shakspere and the Elizabethan Age. 1 3 

is in heaven, that God is not above nature, touching it 
only through rare preternatural points of contact, — 
rather that He is not far from every one of us, that 
human life is sacred, and time a fragment of eternity.* 

Catholicism had endeavoured to sanctify things secular 
by virtue proceeding towards them from special ecclesi- 
astical persons, and places and acts. The modem spirit, 
of which Protestantism is a part, revealed in the total life 
of men a deeper and truer sanctity than can be conferred 
by touches of any wand of ecclesiastical magic. The 
burden of the curse was lightened. Knowledge was 
good, and men set about increasing the store of know- 
ledge by interrogation of nature, and by research into 
the life of mankind as preserved in ancient literatures. 
Visible pomp was a thing which the eye might frankly 
enjoy; men tried to make life splendid. Baleigh rode 
by the queen in silver armour ; the Jesuit Drexelius esti- 
mated the value of the shoes worn by this minion of the 
English Cleopatra at six thousand six hundred gold 
pieces. The essays " Of Building" and " Of Gardens," 
by Bacon, show how this superb mundane ritualism had 
a charm for his imagination. Beauty was now confessed 
to be good ; not the beauty of paradise which Angelico 
painted, but that of Lionardo's Monna Lisa, and Raf- 
faele's Fomarina, and of the daughters of Palma Vecchio. 

* See the excellent opening chapters of *' Shakespeare als Protestant, 
Politiker, Psycholog, und Dichter," by Dr Eduard Vehse. *• Shakes- 
peare, der ungelehrte, unstudirte Dichter ist der erste, in welchem 
sich der modeme Geist, der von der Welt weiss, der die gesammte 
Wirklichkeit zu begreifen sncht, energisch zusammcnfasst. Dieser 
modeme Geist ist der gerade Gegcnsatz des mittelalterlichen Geistes ; 
er erfasst die Welt nnd namentlich die innere Welt als ein Sttick des 
Himmels, und das Leben als einen Theil der Ewigkeit." YoL i., p. 62. 

1 4 Shakspere — His Mind and Art. 

The earth and those excellent creatures, man and i^oman, 
walking upon it formed a spectacle worth a painter's soul. 
One's country was for the present not the heavenly 
Jerusalem, but a certain defined portion of this habitable 
globe ; and patriotism became a virtue, and queen- 
worship a piece of religion. Conscience was a faithful 
witness ; an actual sense of sin, and an actual need of 
righteousness were individual concerns, belonging to the 
inmost self of each human being, and not to be dealt 
with by ecclesiastical mechanism, by sale of indulgence, 
or dispensation of a Pope. Woman was neither a satanic 
bait to catch the soul of man, nor was she the superna- 
tural object of mediaeval chivalric devotion ; she was no 
miracle, yet not less nor other than that endlessly inter- 
esting thing — woman. Love, friendship, marriage, the 
ties of parent and child, jealousy, ambition, hatred, re- 
venge, loyalty, devotion, mercy, — ^these were not insig- 
nificant affairs because belonging to a world which passes 
away ; human life being of importance, these, the bless- 
ings and curses of human life, were important also. 
Heaven may be very real; we have a good hope that it 
is so; meanwhile here is our earth, a substantial, in- 
dubitable fact. 

The self-conscious ethics of the Elizabethan period 
find an imaginative utterance in Spenser's " Faerie 
Queene." Spenser's view of human life is grave and 
^ earnest ; it is that of a knightly encounter with princi- 
palities and powers of evil. Yet Spenser is neither 
mediaeval nor essentially Puritan ; the design of the 
" Faerie Queene " is in harmony with the general 
Elizabethan movement. The problem which the poet 

Shakspere and the Elizabethan Age. \ 5 

sets himself to consider is not that of our great English 
all^ory, — " The Pilgrim's Progress " — how the soul of 
man may escape from earth to heaven. Nor is the 
quest of a mystical Grail a central point in this epic of 
Arthur. The general end of Spenser's poem is " to 
fashion a gentleman or noble person in virtuous and 
gentle discipline." A grand self-culture is that about 
which Spenser is concerned ; not as with Bunyan the 
escape of the soul to heaven; not the attainment of 
supernatural grace through a point of mystical contact, 
like the vision which was granted to the virgin knight 
of the mediaeval allegory. Self-culture, the formation 
of a complete character for the uses of earth, and after- 
wards, if need be, for the uses of heaven — ^this was 
subject sufficient for the twenty-four books designed to 
form the epic of the age of Elizabeth. And the means 
of that self-culture is of the active kind, namely war- 
fare, — warfare not for its own sake, but for the generous 
accomplishment of unselfish ends. Godliness, self- 
mastery, chastity, fraternity, justice, courtesy, constancy 
—each of these is an element in the ideal of human 
character conceived by the poet ; not an ascetic, not a 
mediaeval ideal. If we are to give a name to that ideal 
we must call it Magnificence, Great-doing. Penitential 
discipline and heavenly contemplation are recognised by 
Spenser as needful to the perfecting of the Godward side 
of man's nature, and as preparing him for strenuous 
encounter with evil ; yet it is characteristic that even 
heavenly Contemplation in Spenser's allegory cannot 
forget the importance of those wonderfrU things of earth, 
— London and the Queen. 

1 6 Shakspere — His Mind and Art 

Nor is each of Spenser's knights (although upon his 
own strength and skill assisted by divine grace depends 
the issue of his strife), a solitary knight-errant. The poet 
is not without a sense of the corporate life of humanity. 
As the virtues are linked one to another by a golden chain, 
so is each noble nature bound to his fellows. Arthur 
is the succourer of all ; all are the servants of Gloriana. 
Spenser would seem to have longed for some new order 
of lofty, corporate life, a later Round Table, suitable to 
the Elizabethan age. If it were a dream, more fitted 
for Faery-Land than for England of the sixteenth' 
century, we may perhaps pardon Spenser for belief in 
incalculable possibilities of virtue ; for he had known 
Sidney, and the character of Sidney seems forever to 
have lived with him inspiring him with inextinguishable 
faith in man. With national life Spenser owned a 
sympathy which we do not expect to find in the mediaeval 
romances of Arthur, written before England had acquired 
an independent national character, nor in Bunyan's 
allegory, which does not concern itself with affairs of 
earthly polity, and which came into existence at a period 
of national depression, a time when the political enemies 
of England were her religious allies.. But in the 
days of Elizabeth the nation had sprung up to a conscious- 
ness of new strength and vitality, and its political and 
religious antagonists, Spain and the Papacy, were 
identical. Faery Land with Spenser is indeed no 
dream world; it lies in no distant latitude. His epic 
abounds with contemporary political and religious feel- 
ing. The combat with Orgoglio, the stripping of 
Duessa, the death of Kirkrapine could have been 

Shakspere and the Elizabethan Age. 1 7 

written only by an Englishman and a Protestant pos* 
sessed by no half-hearted hatred towards Spain and the 
Papal power. Spenser's views on Irish politics, which 
interested him so nearly, are to be discovered in the 
Legend of Arthegall with hardly less clearness than in 
his prose dialogue upon the Present State of Ireland. 

Further, in his material life, Spenser appears to have 
had a sufficient hold upon positive fact. During the 
same year, in which, for the second time, he became a 
lover, the year during which he wooed his Elizabeth, 
and recorded his despairs and raptures in the Italian 
love-philosophy of the Arrwretti, the piping and pastoral 
Colin Qout exhibited suit for three ploughlands, parcels 
of Sbanballymore, and was alleged to have " converted 
a great deal of com " elsewhere " to his proper use." 
Neither love nor poetry made him insensible to the 
substantial though minor fact of ploughlands of Sban- 
ballymore. With measureless dominion in Faery Land 
he yet did not disdain a slice of the forfeited estate of 
the Earl of Desmond. Some powerful hostility hindered 
his court-preferment; and the grievance finds a place 
in Spenser's verse. His own material life he endea- 
voured, not altogether successftdly, to render solid and 
prosperous. The intention of his great poetical achieve- 
ment is one which, while in a high sense religious, is at 
the same time eminently positive. A complete develop- 
ment of noble human character for active uses, not a 
cloistered virtue, is that which Spenser looked upon as 
most needed for Qod and man. Such a design is in 
harmony with the spirit of England in the days of 
Elizabeth. To be great and to do great things seemed 

1 8 Shakspere — His Mind and Art. 

better than to enter the Celestial City, and forget the 
City of Destruction ; better than to receive in ecstacy 
the vision of a divine mystery, or to be fed with miracu- 
lous foo4. In Spenser these ethics of the Elizabethan 
age arrived at a self-conscious existence. 

Let us, remaining at the same point of view, glance 
now at Bacon and the scientific movement. Bacon and 
Shakspere stand far apart. In moral character and in 
gifts of intellect and soul we should find little 
resemblance between them. While Bacon's sense of 
the presence of physical law in the universe was for his 
time extraordinarily developed, he seems practically to 
have acted upon the theory that the moral laws of the 
world are not inexorable, but rather by tactics and 
dexterity may be cleverly evaded. Their supremacy 
was acknowledged by Shakspere in the minutest aa well 

' as in the greatest concerns of human life. Bacon's 
superb intellect was neither disturbed nor impelled by 
the promptings of his heart. Of perfect friendship or 
of perfect love he may, without reluctance, be pro- 

> nounced incapable. Shakspere yielded his whole being 
to boundless and measureless devotion. Bacon's ethical 
writings sparkle with a frosty brilliance of fancy, play- 
ing over the worldly maxims which constituted his 
wisdom for the conduct of life. Shakspere reaches to 
the ultimate truths of human life and character through 
a supreme and indivisible energy of love, imagination, 
and thought. Tet Bacon and Shakspere belonged to 
one great movement of humanity. The whole endea- 
vour of Bacon in science is to attain the £a>ct, and to 
ascend from particular facts to general. He turned 

Shakspere and the Elizabethan Age. 1 9 

away with utter dissatisfaction from the speculating in 
vcumo of the middle ages. His intellect demanded 
positive knowledge ; he could not feed upon the wind. 
From the tradition of philosophy and from authority he 
reverted to nature. Between faith and reason Bacon 
set a great and impassable gulf. Theology is something 
too high for human intellect to discuss. Bacon is pro- 
foundly deferential to theology, because, as one cannot 
help suspecting, he was profoundly indifferent about it. 
The schoolmen for the service of £aiith had summoned 
human reason to their aid, and Reason, the ally, had in 
time proved a dangerous antagonist. Bacon, in the | 
interest of science, dismissed fiEiith to the unexception- [ 
able province of supernatural truths. To him a dogma 
of theology was equally credible whether it possessed an 
appearance of reasonableness or appeared absurd. The 
total force of intellect he reserved for subjugating to the 
understanding the world of positive fact 

As the matter with which Bacon's philosophy con- 
cerns itself is positive, so its end is pre-eminently prac- 
tical. The knowledge he chiefly valued was that which 
promised to extend the dominion of man over nature, 
and thus to enrich man's life. His conception of human 
welfare was large and magnificent ; yet it was wanting 
in some spiritual elements which had not been lost 
sight of in earlier and darker times. To human welfare, 
thus conceived in a way somewhat materialistic, science is 
to minister. And the instruments of science by which it 
attains this end are the purely natural instruments of 
observation, experiment, and inference. Devotion to 
the fact, a return from the supernatural to the strictly 

20 Shakspere — His Mind and Art. 

natural and human, with a practical, mundane object — 
these are the characteristics of the Elizabethan move- 
ment in science.* 

Let us now turn to the religious movement in Eng- 
land. That movement cannot be said to have had, like 
the Beformation movement in Germany, a central point 
of vitality and sustenance in the agony of an individual 
conscience. Nor was it guided like the movement in 
France by a supreme organising power — theological and 
political, capable of large, if somewhat too logically 
rigid, idea) conceptions. The dogma of Anglicanism is 
not like Calvinistic dogma, the expression and develop- 
ment of an idea ; it becomes intelligible only through 
recollection of a series of historical events, — the balance 
of parties, compromises with this side and with that, 
the exigencies of times and seasons. But if England 
had neither a Luther nor a Calvin, she had Cranmer and 
Hooker. The religious revolution of France in the 
sixteenth century, like the political revolution of 
1789, though it sent a strong wave of moral feeling 
through Europe, failed to sustain itself Its uncom- 
promising ideality kept it too much out of relation 
with the vital, concrete, and ever-altering facts of 
human society. The English reformation on the other 
hand, if less presentable in logical formulsB to the 
intellect, was, like English political freedom a« com- 

* Mr Spedding's estiniate of Bftoon differs mucli from that given 
above ; and Mr Spedding lias the best right of any living person to 
speak of Bacon. One must, however, remain faithfol to one's own 
impression of facts, even when that impression is founded on partial 
(yet not wholly insnfficient) knowledge. 

Shakspere and the Elizabethan Age. 2 1 

pared with French liberty, equality, and fraternity, 
much more of a practical success. 

Cosmopolitan the English Reformation was not; it 
was a growth of the soil, and cannot be transplanted ; 
this is its note of inferiority, and equally its characteristic 
excellence. By combined firmness and easiness of tem- 
per, by concessions and compromises, by unweariable good 
sense, a rrformed church was brought into existence, — a 
manufacture rather than a creation, — in which the aver- 
age man might find average piety, average rationality, 
and an average amouDt of soothing appeal to the senses ; 
while rarer spirits could frame out of the moderation 
oi the Anglican ritual, and Anglican devotional temper 
a refined type of piety, free from extravagance, delicate 
and pure, offending like the cathedrals of England 
neither by rigidity on the one hand, nor by flamboyant 
fervours on the other, the type of piety realized in a 
distinguished degree by George Herbert, by Eenn, by 
Kebla In his Ecclesiastical Sonnets Wordsworth 
speaks of the ritual and liturgy of the Church of Eng- 
land as affording material and scope for '' the intensities 
of hoi>e and fear,'' aud for " passionate exercise of lofty 
thoughts." In the preface to " The Christian Year " 
the moderation, the soothing influence of the devotional 
services of the church are noticed. Wordsworth, even 
when the flood of spiritual light and strength which 
encompassed his youth and early manhood bad ebbed, 
remained Wordsworth still ; and from beyond the little 
neatly-ordered enclosure of Anglicanism voices still came 
to him of mouDtain winds and of " mighty waters 
rolling evermore." Keble, who was born and bred in 


2 2 Shakspete — His Mind and Art. 

tbe ADglican paddock, understood its limitations better, 
and wrote the true poetry of his communion — a poetrj 
free from aU risk of being oyer poetical. Dante is the 
poet of Catholicism ; Milton is the poet of Puritanism ; 
the poet of Anglicanism is Keble. 

Much in the ecclesiastical history of oar country was 
due to Cranmer. Had that 'unworthy right hand' of his 
been less sensitive or less pliable, the Church of England 
might have been a more heroic witness for truth (some- 
times a noble failure serves the world as faithfully as 
does a distinguished success), but it could hardly have 
become a national institution with roots which ramify- 
through every layer of society. And Hooker, — ^in what 
lies the special greatness of Hooker ? Is not his special 
quality a majestic common sense ? * ''If we are to fix 
on any fundamental position," writes the Dean of St 
Paul's, '' as the key of Hooker's method of arguing, I 
should look for it in his doctrine, so pertinaciously 
urged, and always implied of the concurrence and co- 
operation, each in its due place, of all possible means 
of knowledge for man's direction." Puritanism appealed 
against reason to the letter of Scripture, and sacrificed 
fact to theory. The Benascence philosophers appealed 
from authority to human reason alone. Hooker, while 
assigning the ultimate, judicial position to reason^ will . 
not deny its place to either Scripture or to the Church, 
or to tradition. He is an embodiment oS, the ecdesias- 
tical wisdom of England. While providing the Church, 
as the Dean of St Paul's has said, with a broad, 

* I am not sure whether Mr Matthew Arnold has not applied this 
expression " majestic common-sense " to Ilooker. 

Shakspere and the Elizabethan Age. 23 

intelligible theory. Hooker saves this theory from 
rigidity, and merely ideal constructiveness, by rooting it 
in his rich feeing for the concrete fact. Characteristic- 
ally English the work of Hooker will always remain by , 
its lying close to reality, by its practical tendency, by 
its moderation, by its large good-sense. More massive 
Hooker's spirituality becomes, because it includes a 
noble realization of positive fact. 

Now the same soil that produced Bacon and Hooker 
produced Shakspere ; the same environment fostered the 
growth of all three. Can we discover anything possessed 
in common by the scientific movement, the ecclesiastical 
movement, and the drama of the period ? That which 
appears to be conmion to all is a rick feeUng for 'positive* ' 
ooTicrcie fdct The facts with which the drama concerns 
itself are those of human character in its living play. And 
assuredly,' whatever be its imperfection, its crudeness, its 
extravagance, no other body of literature has amassed in 
equal fulness and equal variety a store of concrete facts 
concerning human character and human life ; assuredly 
not the drama of .£schylu8 and Sophocles, not the drama 
of Calderon and Lope de Vega» not the drama of 
Comeille and Bacine. These give us views of human 
life, and select portions of it for artistic handling. The * ' 
Elizabethan drama gives us the stuff of life itself, the 
coarse with the fine, the mean with the heroic, the 
humorous and grotesque with the tragic and the terrible. 
The personages of the drama — if we except those of 
Marlowe — "are not symbols of any absolute or ideal 
type. . . . The human being is not defined by its most 
prominent faculty, nor life by its most potent manifesta- 

2 4 S/iakspere — His Mind and A rt 

tion. The beings themselves, life itself, are brought 
before us on the scene, and that with a reality, 
truth, and perfection the highest ever attained by 
man." * 

Poetry in this Elizabethan period is put upon a 
purely human basis. No Fate broods over the actions 
of men, and the history of families ; the only fatality is 
the fatality of character.'f Luck, an outstanding 
element, helping to determine the lives of mortals, and 
not reducible to known law, luck good and bad Shak- 
spere readily admits ; but luck is strictly a thing in the 
course of nature. The divinity which shapes our ends 
works efficiently, but secretly. Men's lives in the drama 
of Shakspere are not disorganised and denaturalised by 
irruptions of the miraculous. The one standing miracle 
is the world itself That power and virtue which can 
achieve wonders, which can do higher things than all 
feats of grotesque magic recorded in the L^end is 
simply a noble or beautiful soul of man or woman. If 
we recognise in a moral order of the world a divine 
V presence, then the divine presence is never absent from 
the Shaksperian world. For such sacred thaumaturgy 

* Joseph Mazzdni ; Critical and Liienuy Writings, voL ii., pp. 133- 
34. On what follows Maszini writes : — ' ' In Shakspere, and this is a real 
progress (as compared with .^ESschylas), liberty does exist. The act of 
a single day, or it may be of an honr, has thrown an entire life under the 
dominion of necessity, but in that day or hour the man was free, and 
arbiter of his own future." — ^p. 135. 

t Shakespeare steUte zuerst seine Stllcke auf gan2 rein menschlichen 
Boden. . . . Wie eines Menachen Gemttth ist, so ist auch sein Schicksal. 
. . . Alles, was ftusserlich geschieht, ist bei Shakespeare durch ein 
Inneres bedingt." — E. Vehse, Shakespeare aU Proteatani, &o., voL i, 
pp. 57-68. 

Shakspere and the Elizabethan Age. 2 5 

as that of Calderon's AviJboH we shall in vam seek in the 
drama of England.* 

A vigorous, mundane vitality — ^this constitutes the 
basis of the Elizabethan dramaw Vigour reveals on the 
one hand the tragedy of life. Love and hatred, joy and 
sorrow, life and death being very real to a vigorous 
nature, tragedy becomes possible. To one who exists 
languidly from day to day, neither can the cross and 
passion of any human heart be intelligible, nor the 
solemn intensities of joy, the glorious resurrection and 
ascension of a life and soul. The heart must be all 
alive and sensitive before the imagination can conceive, 
with swift assurance, and no hesitation or error, ex- 
tremes of rapture and of pain. The stupendous mass of 
Lear's agony, and the spasms of anguish which make 
Othello writhe iu body as in mind, fell within the com- 
pass of the same imagination that included at the other 
extremity the trembling expectation of Troilus, before 
the entrance of Cres8ida,f — into which the dramatist 
enters so profoundly, while at the same time he holds him- 

* It is remarkable that the peculiar merit of Calderon, recogniBed by 
'Shelley in his Defence of Poetry,— a merit which Shelley cannot attri- 
bute tp the Elizabethan dramatiBts, — shoold be hii endeavour to con- 
nect art with religion, 
t Troihu, — I am giddy ; expectation whirls me round. 
The imaginary relish is so sweet 
That it enchants my sense ; what wiU it be. 
When that the watery palate tastes indeed 
Love's thrice repurM nectar ? Death, I fear me, 
Swooning destruction, or some joy too fine. 
Too subtle-potent, tuned too sharp in sweetness. 
For the capacity of my ruder powers : 
I fear it much : and I do fear besides. 
That I shall lose distinotion in my joys ; 
As doth a battle, when they charge on heaps 
The enemy flying. — Act m. Scene 2. 

2 6 Shakspere — His Mind and A rt 

self ironically aloof, — ^the fulness of satisfied need when 

Posthumus embraces Imogen, — 

Hang there like fruit, my soul, 
Till the tree die! 

and the rapture (almost transcending the bounds of con- 
sciousness) of Pericles upon the recovery of his long-lost 
Marina : — 

Helicanus, strike me, honoured sir ; 

Give me a gash, put me to present pain ; 

Lest this great sea of joys rushing upon me 

Overbear the shores of my mortality, 

And drown me with their sweetness. 

On the other hand this same vigour enables men to 
perceive and enjoy the comedy of life ; for vigour enjoys 
folly ; when it laughs, like Shakspere's Valentine, " it 
laughs like a cock." One who is thoroughly in earnest 
is not afraid to laugh ; he knows that he may safely have 
his laugh out, and that it wiU not disturb the solid rela- 
tions of things. It is only when we are half in earnest 
that we cherish our seriousness, and tremble lest the 
dignity of our griefs or joys should be impaired. And 
accordingly when great tragedies can be written joyous 
comedies can be written also. But when life grows base 
or trivial, when great tragedy ceases (as in the period of 
the Restoration), when false heroics, and showy senti- 
mentality take the place of tragic passion^ then the 
laughter of men becomes brutal and joyless, — the crack- 
ling of thorns under a pot. 

This vigorous vitality which underlies the Elizabethan 
drama is essentially mundane. To it all that is upon 
this earth is real ; and it does not concern itself greatly 
about the reality of other things. Of heaven or hell it 

Sliakspere and the Elizabethan Age. *z 7 

has no power to sing. It finds such and such facts here 
and now, and does not invent or discover supernatural/ 
causes to explain the fact& It pursues man to the 
moment of death, but it pursues him no farther. If it 
confesses '' the burden of the mystery " of human life it 
does not attempt to lighten that burden by any " Thus / 
saith the Lord," which cannot be verified or attested by/ 
actual experience. If it contains a divine element, thei 
divine is to be looked for in the human, not apart from I 
the human. It knows eternity only through time which 
is a part of eternity.* 

Without an ethical tendency, then, the Elizabethan | 
drama yet produces an ethical effect A faithful 
presentation of the facts of the world does not leave us 
indifferent to good and evil, but rather rouses within us, 

* The foUowing passage adds to what has heen written above, and 
illastrates it. '' The feeling which we commonly caU pathos seems, 
when one analyses it, to arise out of a perception of grand incongmities 
— filling a place in one class of our ideas corresponding to that in 
another in which the sense of the ludicrous is placed by Locke. And 
this pathos was attained by medisBval asceticism through its habit of 
dwarfing into insignificance the earthly life and its belongings, and set- 
ting the meanness and wretchedness which it attributed to it, in con- 
trast to the far-off vision of glory and greatness. Another sort 

of pathos — ^the Pagan — .... results from a fuU realising of the joy 
and the beauty of the earth, and the nobleness ot men's lives on it, and 
from seeing a grand inexplicablenees in the incongruity between the 
brightness of these and the darkness which lies at either end of them — 
the infinite contradiction between actual greatness and the apparent 
nothingness of its whence and whither — ^the mystery of strong and 
beautiful impulses finding no adequate outcome now, nor promise of 
ever finding it hereafter — human passion kindling into light and glow, 
only to bum itself out into ashes — the struggle kept up by the wiU of 
successive generations against Fate, ever beginning and ever ending 
in defeat, to recommence as vainly as before — ^the never-answered. 
Why? uttered unceasingly in myriad tones from out all human life. 
The poetry of the Greeks gained from the contemplation of these things 
a pathos which, however gladly a Christian poet may forego such gain 

2 8 Shakspere — His Mind and A rl. 

more than all maxims and all preaching can^ an inex- 
tinguishable loyalty to good. It is any falsifying of 
those £Eu;ts, whether the Bedsification be that of the 
sensualist or of the purist, whether it be a lie told to 
seduce us to vice, or to bribe us to virtue, — it is this 
which may possibly lead us aside from directness, 
simplicity, and uprightness of action. Is the Eliza- 
bethan drama religious ? No, if religion be something 
which stands over and above human life, luring it away 

' from earth : no, if the highest acts of religion be an 
access to the Divine presence through special ecclesiasti- 
cal rites, and places, and persons. Tes, if the fiaots of 
the world be themselves sacred, — ^parts of a divine 

.order of things, and interpenetrated by that Supreme 

for his art, was in its sadness inexpressibly beantif ol. The Iliad had a 
deep ander-cmrent of it even in the midst of all its healthy childlike 
objectivity, and it was ever present amongst the great tragedians* intro- 
spective sdialysings of humanity. High art of later times has, for the 
most part, retained this Pagan beauty. Though there is no reason to 
think that there was any Paganism in Shakspere's creed* yet we cannot 
help feeling that, whether the cause is to be sought in his individual 
genius, or in Renaissance influences, the spirit of his art is in many re- 
spects Pagan. In his great tragedies he traces the workings of noble 
or lovely human characters on to the point-^and no further— where 
they disappear into the darkness of death, and ends with a look htukt 
never on towards anything beyond. His sternly truthful realism will 
not, of course, allow him to attempt a shallow poetical justice, and mete 
out to each of his men and women the portion of earthly good which 
might seem their due ; and his artistic instincts — ^positive rather than 
speculative — ^prefer the majesty and infinite sadness of unezplainedness 
to any attempt to look on towards a future solution of hard riddles in 
human fates.''— E. D. West (in the first of two articles on '* Browning 
as a Preacher :" The 1>ark Blue Magasine, October and November, 
1871). This passage may be borne in mind to illustrate the view 
taken of the great tragedies of Shakspere in a subsequent chapter of 
this volume. See also on the agnosticism of Shakspere— Mr Buskin's 
lecture, "The Mystery of life and its Arts" in Afternoon Lectuies 
(Dublin: M<Gee, 1869), pp. 110-111. 

Shakspere and the Elizabethan Age. 29 

BeaJity, apprehended yet unknowable, of which the 
worlds of matter and of mind are a manifestation. 

To many, at the present time, the sanity and the 
strength of Shakspere would assuredly be an influence 
that might well be called religious. The Elizabethan 
drama is thoroughly free from lassitude, and from that 
lethargy of heart, which most of us have felt at one time 
or another. Those whose lot falls in a period of doubt and 
spiritual alteration, between the ebb and the flow, in the 
welter and wash of the waves, are, — because they lack 
the joyous energy of a faith — ^peculiarly subject to this 
mood of barren lethargy. And it is not alone in the 
mystic, spiritual life of the soul that we may suffer from 
coldness or aridity. There are seasons when a sterile 
world-weariness is induced by the superficial barrenness 
of life. The i)er8ons we know seem to shrivel up and 
become wizened and grotesque. The places we have 
loved transform themselves into ugly little prisons. The 
ideals for which we lived appear absurd patterns, 
insignificant arabesques, devoid of idea and of beauty. 
Our own heart is a most impertinent and unprofitable 
handful of dust. It is well if some supreme joy or 
sorrow which has overtaken us save us from possible 
recurrence of this mood of weary cynicism. But 
humbler means at times have served. The tear shed 
over a tale of Marmontel by one who recorded bis 
malady and his recovery, has occasioned certain smiles 
on critical |ips.* A true physician of the soul discerns 
that such a tear \& not despicable, but significant as the 
beads of perspiration which tell that the crisis of a fever 
* J. S. MiU's Antobiography, pp. 140*41. 

30 Shakspere — His Mind and Art 

is favourably passed. To this mood of barren world- 
weariness the Elizabethan drama comes with no direct 
teachings but with the vision of life. Even though 
death end all, these things at least art — ^beauty and 
force, purity, sin, and love, and anguish and joy. These 
things are, and therefore life cannot be a little idle 
whirl of dust. We are shown the strong man taken in 
the toils, the sinner sinking farther and farther away 
from light and reality and the substantial life of things 
into the dubious and the dusk, the pure heart all vital, 
and confident, and joyous ; we are shown the glad, 
vicarious sacrifice of soul for soul, the malign activity of 
evil, the vindication of right by the true justiciary ; we 
are shown the good common things of the world, and 
the good things that are rare ; the love of parents and 
children, the comradeship of young men, the exquisite 
vivivcity, courage, and high-spirited intellect of noble 
girlhood, the devotion of man and woman to man 
and woman. The vision of life rises before us ; and 
we know that the vision represents a reality. These 
things, then, being actual, how poor and shallow a 
trick of the h6art is cynicism ! 
^v Two views of the character of Shakspere have been 
^ - offered for our acceptance ; we are expected to make a 
choice between the two. According to one of these 
views Shakspere stands before us a cheerful, self- 
possessed, and prudent man, who conducted his life with 
sound worldly judgment; and he wrote plays, about 
which he did not greatly care ; acquired property, about 
which he cared much ; retired to Stratford, and attaining 
the end of his ambition, became a wealthy and respect- 

Shakspere and the Elizabethan Age. 3 1 

able burgees of his native town, bore the arms of a 
gentleman, married his two daughters with prudence, 
and died with the happy consciousness of having gained 
a creditable and substantial position in the world. The '* 
other view of Shakspere's character has been recently 
presented by M. Taine with his imflagging brilliancy and 
energy. According to this second conception Shakspere 
was a man of almost superhuman passions, extreme in 
joy and pain, impetuous in his transports, disorderly in 
his conduct, heedless of conscience, but sensitive to 
every touch of pleasure, a man of inordinate, extrava- 
gant genius. 

It is impossible to accept either of these repre-»i 
sentations of Shakspere as a complete statement 
of the fact. Certain it is, however, that a portion of 
truth is contained in the first of these two Shakspere 
theories. There can be no doubt that Shakspere con- 
sidered it worth his while to be prudent, industrious, 
and economical He would appear to have had a very 
sufficient sense of life, and in particular of his own life, 
as real, and of this earth as a possession. He had seen 
his father sinking deeper and deeper into pecuniary 
embarrassment, and dropping away from the good 
position which he had held amongst his fellow towns- 
men. Shakspere had married at eighteen years of 
age ; he was at the age of twenty-one the father of a 
pon, and of two daughters ; a reckless, improvident life 
became more than ever undesirable. He took the means 
which gave him the best chance of attaining worldly 
prosperity ; he made himself useful in every possible 
way to his dramatic company. While others, Greene, 

32 Shakspere — His Mind and Art 

and Nash, and Marlowe, had squandered their strength 
in the turbulent life of London, Shakspere husbanded 
his strength. The theatrical life did not bring satis&c- 
tion to him ; he felt that his moral being suffered loss 
while he spent himself upon the misoellaneous activities 
forced upon him by his position and profession ; he was 
made for a higher, purer life of more continuous progress 
towards all that is excellent, and he felt pain&lly that 
his nature was being subdued to what it worked in, as 
the dyer's hand receives its stain.* Nevertheless he did 
not, in the fashion of idealists, hastily abandon the life 
which seemed to entail a certain spiritual loss ; he 
recognised the reality of external, objective duties and 
claims, duties to his father, to his family, to his own 
future self; he accepted the logic of facts ; he compelled 
the lower and provisional life of player and playwright to 
become the servant of his higher life, as far as circum- 
stances permitted ; and he carefully and steadily applied 
himself to effecting his deliverance from that provisional 
life at the earliest suitable period ; but not before that 
period had arrived. And afterwards when Shakspere 
had become a prosperous country gentleman, he did not 
ndeavour to cut himself loose from his past life which 
had served him, and the associates who had been his 
friends and helpers ; the Stratford gentleman who 
might write himself Armigero " in any bill, warrant, 
quittance, or obligation," was not so enamoured of this 
distinction as to be ashamed of the days when he lived 
by public means ; he remembers in his will among the 

* Sonnets, cxi. 

Shakspere and the Elizabethan Age. 33 

rural esquires and gentry, " My Fellowes, John 
Hemynges, Richard Burbage, and Henry Cundell/* 

Thus all through his life we observe in Shakspere a 
sufficient recognition of external fact, external claims, 
and obligations. Hence worldly prosperity could not be 
a matter which would ever seem unimportant to Shak- 
spere. In 1604, when he was a wealthy man, William 
Shakspere brought an action against Philip Rogers, in 
the Court of Stratford, for £1, los. lOd., being the price 
of malt sold and delivered to him at different times. 
The incident is characteristic. Shakspere evidently 
could estimate the precise value for this temporal life 
(though possibly not for eternity), of £1, 1 5s. 1 Od. ; and 
in addition to this he bore down with unfaltering insist- 
ance on the positive fact that the right place out of all 
the universe for the said £1, 15 s. lOd. to occupy, lay in 
the pocket of William Shakspere. 

Practical, positive, and alive to material interests, 
Shakspere unquestionably was. But there is another 
side to his character. About the same time that he 
brought his action against Philip Rogers for the price of 
malt, the poet was engaged upon his " Othello " and his 
" Lear." Is it conceivable that Shakspere thought 
more of his pounds than of his plays ? Strongly as he 
felt the fact about the little sum of money which he 
sought to recover, is it not beyond possibility of doubt 
that his whole nature was immeasurably more kindled, 
aroused, and swayed by the vision of Lear upon the 
heath, of Othello taken in the snake-like folds of lago's 
cunning, and by the inscrutable mysteries respecting 
human life which these suggested ? It is highly impor- 


34 Shakspere — His Mind and Art. 

tant to fix our attention on what is positive, practical, 
and finite in Shakspere's art, as well as in Shakspere's 
life. But if the poet was of his own age, he was also 
" for all time." He does not merely endeavour to 
compass and comprehend the knowable ; he broods with 
a passionate intensity over that which cannot be known. 
And again, he not only studies self-control; he could 
depict, and we cannot doubt that he knew by personal 
experience absolute abandonment and self- surrender. 
The infinite of meditation, the infinite of passion, both 
these lay within the range of Shakspere's experience 
) and Shakspere's art. He does not, indeed, come forward 
with explanations of the mysteries of existence ; perhaps 
because he felt more than other men their mysterious- 
I ness. Many of us seem to think it the all-essential 
/ thing to be provided with answers to the difficult 
^questions which the world propounds, no matter how 
little the answers be to these great questions. Shakspere 
seems to have considered it more important to put the 
questions greatly, to feel the supreme problems. 

Thus Shakspere, like nature and like the vision of hu- 
man life itself, if he does not furnish us with a doctrine, 
has the power to free, arouse, dilate. Again and again 
we fall back into our little creed or our little theory^ Shak- 
spere delivers us ; under his infiuence we come anew into 
the presence of stupendous mysteries, and, instead of 
our little piece of comfort, and support, and contentment, 
we receive the gift of solenm awe, and bow the head 
in reverential silence. These questions are not stated 
by Shakspere as intellectual problems. He states them 
pregnantly, for the emotions and for the imagination. 

Skakspere and the Elizabethan Age. 35 

And it is by virtue of his very knowledge that he comes 
face to face with the mystery of the unknown. Because 
he had sent down his plummet farther into the depths 
than other men, he knew better than others how fathom- 
less for human thought those depths remain. " Un 
g^nie/' Victor Hugo has said, ** est un promontoire dans 
Finfini." This promontory which we name Shakspere 
stretching out long and sharp has before it measureless 
sea and the mass of threatening cloud; behind it the 
habitable globe, illuminated, and alive with moving 
figures of man and woman. 

Our conclusion, therefore, is that Shakspere lived and 
moved in two worlds— one limited, practical, positive; 
the other a world opening into two infinites, an infinite 
of thought, and an infinite of passion. He did not 
suppress either life to the advantage of the other ; but 
he adjusted them, and by stem and persistent resolution 
held them in the necessary adjustment. In the year 
1602 Shakspere bought for the sum of three hundred 
and twenty pounds, one hundred and seven acres of 
arable land in the parish of Old Stratford. It was in 
the same year (if the chronology of Delius be accepted 
as correct) that Shakspere, in the person of his Hamlet, 
musing on a skull, was tracing out the relations of a 
buyer of land to the soil in a somewhat singular fashion. 
" This fellow might be in *s time a great buyer of land, 
with his statutes, his recognizances, his fines, his double 
vouchers, his recoveries ; is this the fine of his fines, and 
the recovery of his recoveries, to have his fine pate full 
of fine dirt ? " The courtier Osric, who has *' much 
land and fertile," is described by the Prince (who could 


3 6 Shakspere — His Mind and A rt. 

be contented in a nut shell, but that he has bad dreams) 
as " spacious in the possession of dirt." Yet this dirt 
Shakspere used to serve his needs. 

How shall a man live sanely in presence of the small 
daily facta of life (which are also not small but great), and 
in presence of the vast mystery of death ? How shall he 
proportion his interests between the bright illuminated spot 
of the known, and the dim, environing unknown which 
possesses such strong attraction for the soul ? How shall 
he restrain and attach his desires to the little objects 
which claim each its definite share of the heart, while 
the heart longs to abandon itself to some one thing with 
measureless devotion 1 Shakspere's attainment of sanity 
and self-control was not that of a day or of a year, it 
was the attainment of his life. Now he was tempted by 
his speculative intellect and imagination to lose all clear 
perception of his limited and finite life ; and again he 
was tempted to resign the conduct of his being by the 
promptings of a passionate heart. He is inexorable in 
his plays to all rebels against the fact; because he 
was conscious of the strongest temptation to become 
himself a rebel. He cannot forgive an idealist, because 
in spite of his practical and positive nature he was 
(let the Sonnets witness) an idealist himself. His 
series of dramatic writings is one long study of self- 

And Shtikspere, we have good reason to believe, did at 
last attain to the serene self-possession which he had sought 
with such persistent effort He feared that he might 
become (in spite of Mercutios jests) a Romeo ; he feared 
that he might &lter firom his strong self-maiuteuance 

Shakspere and the Elizabethan Age. 37 

into a Hamlet ; he suffered grievous wrong, and he 
resolved that he would not be a Timon. He ended by 
becoming Duke Prospero. Admired Miranda — truly 
" a thread of his own life" — he made over to the young 
gallant Ferdinand — (and yet was there not a touch of 
sadness in resigning to a somewhat shallow -souled 
Fletcher the art he loved ?) He broke his magic staff ; 
he drowned his book deeper than ever plummet sounded; 
he went back, serenely looking down upon all of human 
life, yet refusing his share in none of it, to his Dukedom 
at Stratford, resolved to do Duke's work, such as it is, 
well ; yet Prospero must forever have remained some- 
what apart and distinguished from other Dukes, and 
Warwickshire magnificoes, by virtue of the enchanted 
island, and the marvellous years of mageship. 

It has been asked whether Shakspere was a Protestant 
or a Catholic, and he has been proved to belong to each 
communion to the satisfaction of contending theological 
zealots. Shakspere's poetry, resting upon a purely 
human basis, is not a rendering into art of the dogmas of 
either Catholicism or Protestantism. Shakspere himself, 
a great artistic nature, frained for manifold joy and pain, 
may, like other artists, have had no faculty for the 
attainment of certitude upon extra-mundane and' super- 
human matters ; of concrete moral facts he had the 
clearest perception, but we do not find that he was 
interested, at least as an artist, in truths or alleged 
truths which transcend the limits of human experience. 
That the world suggests inquiries which cannot be 
answered, — that mysteries confront and baffle us, — 
that around our knowledge lies ignorance, around our 

38 Shakspere — His Mind and Art 

lights darkness^ this to Shakspere seemed a fact con- 
taining within it a profound significance, which might 
indeed be named religioua But studiously as Shakspere 
abstains &om embodying theological dogma in his art, 
and tolerant as his spirit is, it is certain that the spirit 
of Protestantism, — bf Protestantism considered as portion 
of a great movement of humanity, — animates and 
breathes through his writings. Unless he had stood 
in antagonism to his time, it could not be otherwise. 
Shakspere's creed is not a series of abstract statements 
of truth, but a body of concrete hnpulses, tendencies, 
and habits. The spirit of his faith is not to be ascer- 
tained by bringing together little sentences from the 
utterances of this one of his drwrnaiis peraonce and of 
that By such a method he might be proved (as Birch 
tried to prove Shakspere), an atheist* The faith by 
which Shakspere lived, is rather to be discovered by 
noting the total issue and resultant of his art towards 
the fostering and sustenance of a certain type of human 
character. It may be asserted, without hesitation, that 
the Protestant type of character, and the Protestant 
polity in state and nation, is that which has received 
impulse and vigour &om the mind of the greatest of 
English poeta Energy, devotion to the fact, self 
government, tolerance, a disbelief in minute apparatus 

* *' Inquiry into the Philosophy and Eeligion of Shakespeare," 1S48. 
This ifl also too much the method (leading, however, to a very different 
result), of Flathe in the laborious chapter ** Die Anschauungen Shak- 
Bpeare*B uber sein Selbst, &c.," which opens the first volume of 
**Shak8peare in seiner Wirklichkeit." On this subject see Vehse's 
book already referred to ; the last of Kreyssig's lectures in his smaller 
work, *'Shakespeare-Fragen," and Rumelin *' Shakespeare-Studien," 
pp. 207-215 (second edition). 

Shakspere and the Elizabethan Age. 39 

for the improvement of human character, an indiflTerence to 
externals in comparison with that which is of the invisible 
life, and a resolution to judge all things from a purely 
human standpoint, these grow upon us as habits of 
thought and feeling, as long as Shakspere remains an 
influence with us in the building up of character. 
Such habits of thought and feeling are those which 
belong more especially to the Protestant ideal of man- 

Is Shakspere a religious poet? An answer has . 
been given to this question by Mr Walter Bagehot, \ 
which contains the essential truth. " If this world is \ 
not all evil, he who has understood and painted it best, 
must probably have some good. If the underlying and 
almighty essence of this world be good, then it is likely 
that the writer who most deeply approached to that 
essence will be himself good. There is a religion of 
week-days as well as of Sundays, a religion of ' cakes 
and ale * as well as of pews and altar cloths. This 
England lay before Shakspere as it lies before us all, 
with its green fields, and its long hedgerows, and its 
many trees, and its great towns, and its endless hamlets, 
and its motley society, and its long history, and its bold 

* See on thiB Bubject the able reply to Bio by Michael Bemays in 
" Jahrbuch der Deutachen Shakespeare-Qesellachaft," vol. i. pp. 220-299. 
A minute but perhaps significant piece of evidence has been noticed 
recently by H. von Friesen. In Borneo and Juliet, Ad iv. Scent 1, we 
read, '^Or shall I come to you at evening mass?" No Catholic, 
obserTes H. von Friesen, could have spoken of '* evening mass." — 
" Altengland nnd William Shakspere (1874)," pp. 286-87. Staunton 
had previously noticed the difficulty. The word "mass" in this 
passage is explained by Clarke as meaning generaUy '* service," 


40 Shakspere — His Miftd and Art 

exploits, and its gathering power ; and he saw that they 
were good. To him perhaps more than to any one else 
has it been given to see that they were a great unity, a 
great religious object ; that if you could only descend to 
the inner life, to the deep things, to the secret principles 
of its noble vigour, to the essence of character .... we 
might, so far as we are capable of so doing, understand 
the nature which Qod has made. Let us then think of 
him, not as a teacher of dry dogmas, or a sayer of hard 
sayings, but as 

^* A priest to US all 
Of the wonder and bloom of the world," — 

a teacher of the hearts of men and women." * 

It is impossible however that the sixteenth or the 
seventeenth century should set a limit to the nineteenth. 
The voyaging spirit of man cannot remain within the 
enclosure of any one age or any single mind. We need 
to supplement the noble positivism of Shakspere with 
an element not easy to describe or define^ but none the 
less actual, which the present century has demanded 
as essential to its spiritual life and well-being, and which 
its spiritual teachers — ^Wordsworth, Coleridge, Shelley, 
Newman, Maurice, Carlyle, Browning, Whitman (a strange 
and apparently motley assemblage I) have supplied and are 
still supplying. The scientific movement of the present 
century is not more unquestionably a fact, than this is 
a fact In the meantime to enter with strong and un- 
disturbed comprehension into Shakspere, let us endeavour 
to hold ourselves strenuously at the Shaksperian stand- 

n Estimates of some Englishmen and Scotchmen, by Walter Bagehot, 
p. 270. 

Shakspere and the Elizabethan Age. 41 

point, and view the universe from thenca We shall 
afterwards go our way, as seems best ; bearing with us 
Shakspere's gift. And Shakspere has no better gift to 
bestow than the strength and courage to pursue our own 
path, through pain or through joy, vrith vigour and 
resolution. ' 



In the preceding chapter a brief and partial study waa 
attempted of Shakspere the man, and Shakspere the 
artist, considered as one element in the great intellectual 
and spiritual movement of the Elizabethan period. The 
organism, — a dramatic poet, — ^we endeavoured to view in 
connection with its environment Now we proceed to 
observe, in some few of its stages of progress, the growth 
of that organism. Shakspere in 1590, Shakspere in 
1600, and Shakspere in 1610, was one and the same 
living entity ; but the adolescent Shakspere differed 
from the adult, and again from Shakspere in the supre- 
macy of his ripened manhood, as much as the slender 
stem, graceful and pliant, spreading its first leaves to 
the sunshine of May, differs from the moving expanse of 
greenery, visible a century later, which is hard to com- 
prehend and probe with the eye in its infinite details, 
multitudinous and yet one, receiving through its sensi- 
tive surfaces the gifts of light and dew, of noonday and 
of night, grasping the earth with inextricable living 
knots, not unpossessed of haunts of shadow and secrecy, 
instinct with ample mysterious murmurs, — the tree 
which has a history, and bears in wrinkled bark and 
wrenched bough memorials of time and change, of hard- 

Growth of Shaksperis Mind and Art. 43 

ship, and drought, and storm. Tlie poet Gray in a 
well-known passage, invented a piece of beautiful mytho- 
logy, according to which the infant ShaJtspere is repre- 
sented as receiving gifts from the great Dispensatress : — 

Far from the sun and snmmer gale 

In thj green lap waa Nature's darling laid, 

What time, where lucid Avon strayed, 

To him the mighty Mother did unveil 

Her awful face ; the dauntless Child 

Stretched forth his little arms and smiled ; 

This pencil take, she said, whose colours clear 

Richly paint the vernal year, 

Thine too these golden keys, immortal Boy ! 

This can unlock the gates of Joy, 

Of Horror that, and thrilling Fears, 

Or ope the sacred fount of sympathetic Tears. 

But the mighty Mother, more studious of the welfare 
of her charge, in &ot gave her gifts only as they could 
be used. Those keys she did not entrust to Shakspere 
until, by manifold experience, by consolidating of intel- 
lect, imagination and passions, and by the growth of 
self-control, he had become fitted to confront the 
dreadful, actual presences of human anguish and of 
human joy. 

Everything takes up its place more rightly in a spacious 
world, accurately observed, than in the narrow world of 
the mere idealist. In bare acquisition of observed fact 
Shakspere marvellously increased from year to year. 
He grew in wisdom and in knowledge (such an admis- 
sion does not wrong the divinity of genius), not less but 
more than other men. Quite a little library exists, 
illustrating the minute acquaintance of Shakspere with 
this branch of information, and with that : " The Legal 

44 Shakspere — His Mind and Art. 

Acqtiirements of Shakspere," " ShaJtspere's Knowledge 
and Use of the Bible," "Shakspere's Delineations of 
Insanity," " The Rural Life of Shakspere," " Shakspere's 
Garden," " The Ornithology of Shakspere," " The Insects 
mentioned by Shakspere," and such like. CJonjectural 
enquiry, which attempts to determine whether Shakspere 
was an attorney's clerk, or whether he was a soldier, 
whether Shakspere was ever in Italy, or whether he was 
in Germany, or whether he was in Scotland ; enquiry 
such as this may lead to no very certain result, with 
respect to the particular matter in question. But one 
thing which such special critical studies as these 
establish, is the enormous receptivity of the poet. 
This vast and varied mass of information he assimilated 
and made his own. And such store of information came 
to Shakspere only by the way, as an addition to the 
more important possession of knowledge about human 
character and human life which forms the proper body 
of fact needful for dramatic art. In proportion as an 
animal is of great size, the masses of nutriment which 
he procures are large. " The Arctic whale gulps in 
whole shoals of acephelae and molluscs." 

But it was not alone, or chiefly through mass of acquisi- 
tion that Shakspere became great. He was not merely 
a centre for the drifting capital of knowledge. Each 
faculty expanded, and became more energetic, while at 
the same time the structural arrangement of the man's 
whole nature became more complex and involved. His 
power of thought increased steadily as years went by, 
both in sure grasp of the known, and in brooding 
intensity of gaze upon the unknown. His emotions. 

Growth of Shaksper^s Miud and Art. 45 

instead of losing their energy and subtilty as youth 
deepened into manhood, instead of becoming dulled and 
crusted over by contact with the world, became (as is 
the case with all the greatest men and women), by 
contact with the world swifter and of more ample 
volume. As Shakspere penetrated farther and farther 
into the actual facts of our life, he found in those facts 
more to rouse and kindle and sustain the heart; he 
discovered more awful ai^d mysterious darkness, and also 
more intense and lovelier light. And it is clearly 
ascertainable from his plays and poems, that Shakspere's 
will grew with advancing age, beyond measure, calmer,' 
and more strong. Each formidable temptation he 
succeeded, before he was done with it, in subduing, at 
least so far as to preclude a fatal result. In the end he 
obtained serene and indefeasible possession of himself. 
He still remained indeed baffled before the mystery of 
life and death ; but he had gained vigour to cope with 
fate ; he coidd " accept all things not understood." 
And during these years, while each faculty was aug- 
menting its proper life, the vital play of one faculty into 
and through the other, became more swift, subtile, and 
penetrating. In Shakspere's earlier writings, we can 
observe him setting his wit to work, or his fancy to 
work ; now he is clever and intellectual, and again he is 
tender and enthusiastic. But in his later style, imagina- 
tion and thought, wisdom, and mirth, and charity, 
experience and surmise play into and through one 
another, until frequently the significance of a passage 
becomes obscured by its manifold vitality. The murmur 
of an embryo thought or feeling already obscurely 

46 Skakspere — His Mind and A rt. 

mingles with the murmurs of the parent life in which 
it is enveloped.* 

Now, what does extraordinary growth imply %\ It 
implies capacity for obtaining the materials of growth ; 
in this case materials for the growth of intellect, of ima- 
gination, of the will, of the emotions. Tt means, there- 
fore, capacity of seeing many facts, of meditating, of 
feeling deeply, and of controlling such feeling. It im- 
plies the avoidance of injuries which interfere with 
growth, escape from enemies which bring life to a sudden 
end ; and therefore strength, and skill, and prudence in 
dealing with the world. It implies a power in the 
organism of Btting its movements to meet numerous 
external co-existences and sequences. In a word, we 
are brought back once again to Shakspere's resolute 
fidelity to the fact. By virtue of this his life became a 
success, as far as success is permitted to such a creature 
as man in such a world as the present 

It seems much that the needy youth who left his native 
town probably under pressure of poverty, should at the 
I age of thirty-three have become possessor of New Place 
at Stratford, and from year to year have added to his 
worldly dignity and wealth. Such material advancement 
argues a power of understanding, and adapting oneself to 
the facts of the material world. But that was not the 
chief success in the life of Shakspere. When Wordsworth 

* See the valaable criticism of Shakspere'a style as contrasted with 
Fletcher's in "A letter on Shakspere's Authorship of 'The Two 
Noble Kinsmen/" 1S33 (by Mr Spalding), pp. 13-1& The criticism 
applies with special propriety to Shakspere's later style. 

f In my answer to this question, I borrow several expressions from 
Herbert Spencer's Biology. 

Growth of Shakspere's Mind and Art. 47 

thought of " mighty poets in their misery dead/' when 
in sudden mood of dejection he murmured to himself. 

We poets in oar yonth begin in gladness. 

But thereof comes in the end despondency and madness, 

he thought of Chatterton and of Bums, not of Shak- 
spere. The early contemporaries of Shakspere — Marlowe 
and Greene — one of them a man of splendid genius, failed 
as Chatterton failed. It must have appeared to Shakspere 
(who well enough imderstood honest frolic) a poor afifair, 
a flimsy kind of idealism — this reckless knocking of 
a man's head against the solid laws of the universe. 
The protest against fact, against our subjection to law * 
made by such men as Marlowe and Greene, was a vulgar 
and superficial protest Shakspere could get no delight 
from the insanity of sowing wild oats. His insanity was 
of a far graver and more terrible kind. It assumed two 
forms — the Romeo form and the Hamlet form — abandon- 
ment to passion, abandonment to brooding thought — two 
diseases of youth, each fatal in its own way ; two forms of 
the one supreme crime in Shakspere's eyes, want of fide- * 
lity to the fact. The noble practical energy of Shakspere 
was tempted to self-betrayal on the one hand by the 
supremacy of blind desire ; on the other hand, by the sap- 
ping in of thought upon the wiU and active powers. The 
struggle between self-wiU and reason, between "blood" 
and "judgment," appears in all his writings to be ever in 
the back-ground, a theme ready at any moment, if per- 
mitted, to become prominent. And Shakspere's pro- 
foundest and most sympathetic psychological study — 
Hamlet — ^represents in detail the other chief temptation 

48 S/iakspere — His Mind and A rt. 

to which he was, it would seem, subjected. In all the 
later plays his eye is intently fixed upon the deep in- 
soluble questions suggested by human character and 
destiny, fixed with a brooding wistfulness, which yet, we 
perceive, he became, as years went on, more and more 
able to control. 

Shakspere's central self pronounced in favour of sanity 
— in favour of seeing things as they are, and shaping 
life accordingly. He bought up houses and lands in 
Stratford, and so made a protest, superficial, indeed, yet 
real, against the Romeo and the Hamlet within him. 
But the idealist within him made Shakspere at all times 
far other than a mere country magnate or wealthy 
burgher. It remained, after all, nearly the deepest part 
of him : — 

Hamlet Ib not parchment made of sheep-akins? 
Horatio. Ay, my lord, and of calf-akins too. 
Hamlet, They are sheep and calves which seek out assurance in 

And Prospero declares the end of the whole matter : — 

We are such stuff 
As dreams are made on, and our little life 
Is rounded with a sleep. 

Shakspere s devotion to material interests was the least 
part of the protest made against his temptation to ex- 
travagance of soul. There are more important facts than 
those of the material life. Shakspere cast his plummet 
into the sea of human sorrow, and wrong, and loss. He 
studied evil He would let none of that dark side of 
life escape from him. He denied none of the bitterness, 
the sins, the calamity of the world. He looked steadily 

Growth of Shakspere's Mind and Art. 49 

at Cordelia strangled in the arms of Lear ; and he sum- . 
moned up a strenuous fortitude, a stoical submission to ' 
make endurable such a spectacle. But at the same time 
he retained his loyalty to good ; over against Edmund 
and the monstrous sisters he saw the invincible loyalty 
of a Kent^ the practical genius of an Edgar in the ser- 
vice of good, and the redeeming ardour of a Cordelia. 
Rescuing his soul from all bitterness, he arrived finally 
at a temper strong and self-possessed as that of stoicism, . 
yet free from the stoical attitude of defiance ; a temper ' 
liberal, gracious, charitable, a tender yet strenuous calm. ! 
The " Venus and Adonis " is styled by its author in 
the dedication to the Earl of Southampton, " the first 
heir of my invention." Qervinus believes that the poem 
may have been written before the poet left Stratford. 
Although separated by an interval of some years from its 
companion poem "The Bape of Lucrece" (1594), the 
two may be regarded as essentially one in kind.* The 
speciality of these poems as portions of Shakspere's 
art has perhaps not been sufficiently observed, f Each is 
an artistic Btmly ; and they form, as has been just 
observed, companion studies — one of female lust and 

* Mr FnmiyaU notes in the YennB and Adonis the following pictures 
from Shakspere's youthful life at Stratford,— the horse {U 260-318) ; the 
hare-hunt (2. 763-768) ; the oyerflowing Avon (72) ; the two silver 
doves (366) ; the milch doe and fawn in some brake in Charlecote 
Park (875-6) ; the red mom (453) ; the hush of the wind before it rains 
(458) ; the many clouds consulting for foul weather (972) ; the night- 
owl (581) ; the lark (853). The Lvcrtce, he adds, <' must have been 
written some time after the ' Venus,' as its proportion of unstopt lines 
is 1 in 10.81 (171 such lines to the poem's L 855) against the < Venus's ' 
1 m 25.40 (47 run-on lines in 1,194)." Preface by F. J. FumivaU to 
Shakespeare Commentaries by Qervinus (ed. 1874). 

t Coleridge touches upon ^e fact. 


5 o Shakspere — His Mind and A rt. 

boyish coldness, the other of male lust and womanly 
chastity. Coleridge noticed " the utter aloofness of the 
poet's own feelings from those of which he is at once the 
painter and the analyst ; " but it can hardly be admitted 
that this aloo&ess of the poet's own feelings proceeds from 
a dramatic abandonment of self. The subjects of these 
two poems did not call and choose their poet, they did 
not possess him and compel him to render them into 
art. Rather, the poet expressly made choice of the 
subjects, and deliberately set himself down before each 
to accomplish an exhaustive study of it. 

If the Venus and Adonis sonnets in " The Passionate 
Pilgrim " be by Shakspere, it would seem that he had 
been trying various poetical exercises on this theme. And 
for a young writer of the Renascence, the subject of Shak- 
spore's earliest poem was a splendid one, — as voluptuous 
and unspiritual as that of a classical picture by Titian. 
It included two figures containing inexhaustible pasture 
for the fleshly eye, and delicacies and dainties for the 
sensuous imagination of the Renascence, — the enamoured 
Queen of Beauty and the beautiful, disdainful boy. 
It afforded occasion for endless exercises and variations 
on the themes, — Beauty, Lust, and Death. In holding 
the subject before his imagination Shakspere is perfectly 
cool and collected. He has made choice of the subject, 
and he is interested in doing his duty by it in the most 
thorough way a young poet can, but he renaains unim- 
passioned, — intent wholly upon getting down the right 
colours and lines upon his canvas. Observe his deter- 
mination to put in accurately the details of each object ; 
to omit nothing. Poor Wat, the hare, is described in a 

Growth of Shaksperes Mind and Art. 5 1 

dozen stanzas. Another series of stanzas describes the 
stallion ; all his points are enumerated : — 

Round-hoof d, short- jointed, fetlocks shag and loDg, 
Broad breast, fcdl eye, small head and nostril wide, 
High crest, short ears, straight legs and passing strong. 
Thin mane, thick tail, broad buttock, tender hide. 

This passage of poetry has been admired ; but is it 
poetry or a paragraph from an advertisement of a horse 
sale ? It is part of Shakspere's study of an animal, and 
he does his work thoroughly. In Uke manner he does 
•not shrink from faithfully putting down each one of the 
amorous provocations and urgencies of Venus. The 
complete series of manoeuvres must be detailed. 

In "Lucrece" the action is delayed and delayed that 
every minute particular may be described, every minor in- 
cident recorded. In the newness of her suflfering and shame 
Lucrece finds time for an elaborate tirade appropriate to 
the theme "Night," another to that of "Time," another to 
that of " Opportunity." Each topic is exhausted. Then 
studiously a new incident is introduced, and its signifi- 
cance for the emotions is drained to the last drop in a 
new tirade. We nowhere else discover Shakspere so 
evidently engaged upon his work. Afterwards he puts 
a stress upon his verses to compel them to contain the 
hidden wealth of his thought and imagination. Here 
he displays at large such wealth as he possesses ; he will 
have none of it half seen. The descriptions and 
declamations are undramatic, but they shew us the 
materials laid out in detail from which dramatic poetry 
originates. Having drawn so carefully from models, the 
time comes when he can trust himself to draw from 

5 2 Shakspere — His Mind and A rt. 

\ memory, and he possesses marvellous freedom of hand, 
because his previous studies have been so laborious. It 
was the same hand that drew the stallion in Venus and 
Adonis, which afterwards drew with infallible touch, as 
thougli they were alive, the dogs of Theseus : — 

My honnds are bred out of the Spartan kind 
80 flewM, 00 Banded, and their heads are hung 
With ears that sweep away the morning dew ; 
Crook-kneed, aad dew-lapped like Thessalian bulls ; 
Slow in pursuit ; but matched in mouth like bells, 
Each under each. A cry more tuneable 
Was never hoUa'd to, nor cheer'd with horn 
In Crete, in Sparta, nor in Thessaly.* 

When these poems were written Shakspere was 

" The comparison of these two passages is from Haslitt, whose 
nnfayourable criticism of Shakspere's poems expresses weU one side of 
the truth. ** The two poems of Venus and Adonis, and of Tarquin 
and Lucrece, appear to us like a couple of ice-houses. They ax« about 
as hard, as glittering, and as cold. The author seems all the time to 
be thinking of his verses, and not of his subject— not of what his 
characters would feel, but of what he shall say ; and as it must happen 
in all such oases he always puts into their mouths those things which 
they would be the last to think of, and which it shows the greatest 
ingenuity in him to find out. The whole is laboured up-hill work. 
The poet is perpetually singling out the difficulties of the art to make 
an exhibition of his strength and skill in wrestling with them. He is 
making perpetual trials of them as if his mastery over them wero 

doubted. A beautiful thought is sure to be lost in an endless 

commentary upon it There is besides a strange attempt to 

substitute the language of painting for that of poetry, to make us see 
their feelings in the faces of the persons.'' Characters of Shakespear's 
Plays (ed. 1818), pp. 348-49. Coleridge's much more favourable 
criticism will be found in Biographia Literaria, vol. ii., chap, ii (ed. 
1847). The peculiarity of the poems last noticed in the extract from 
Hazlitt is ingeniously accounted for by Coleridge. " The great instinct 
which impelled the poet to the drama was secretly working in him, 
prompting him .... to provide a substitute for that visual language, 
that constant intervention and running comment by tone, look, and 
gesture, which in his dramatic works he was entitled to expect from the 
players," pp. 18-19. 

Growth of Shaksperis Mind and Art 53 

cautiously feeling his way. Large, slow -growing ' 
natures, gifted with a sense of concrete fact and with 
humour, ordinarily possess no great self-confidence in 
youth. An idealist, like Milton, may resolve in early 
manhood that he will achieve a great epic poem, and in 
old age may turn into fact the ideas of his youth. An 
idealist, like Marlowe, may begin his career with a 
splendid youthful audacity, a stupendous " Tamerlaine." 
A man of the kind to which Shakspere belonged, 
although very resolute, and determined, if possible, to 
succeed, requires the evidence of objective facts to give 
him self-confidence. Hiw special virtue lies in a 
peculiarly pregnant and ricli relation with the actual 
world, and such relation commonly establishes itself by 
a gradual process. Accordingly, instead of flinging 
abroad into the world while still a stripling some unpre- 
cedented creation, as Marlowe did, or as Victor Hugo 
did, and securing thereby the position of the leader of an 
insurgent school, Shakspere began, if not timidly, at 
least cautiously and tentatively. He undertakes work 
of any and every description, and tries and tests him- 
self upon all. He is therefore a valued person in his 
theatrical company, ready to turn his hand to anything 
helpful, a Jack of all trades, a *' Johannes factotum ; " 
he is obliging and free from self-assertion ; he is waiting 
his time; he is not yet sure of himself; he finds it the 
sensible thing not to profess singularity. ''Divers of 
worship " report his " uprightness of dealing ; " he is 
'' excellent in the quality he professes; " * his demeanour 

* On the special use of the word « quality " for the stage-player's 
profession see a note by Hermann Kurz in his article " Shakespeare 
der Schaospieler."— /SAoikeapeare /oArfrvc^ vol. vi, pp. 317-1& 

54 Shakspere — His Mind and Art. 

is civil ; he is recognized even already as having a 
"facetious grace in writing.* Let us not suppose 
because Shakspere declines to assault the real world, and 
the world of imagination, and take them by violence, 
that he is therefore a person of slight force of character. 
He is determined to master both these worlds if possible. 
He approaches them with a facile and engaging air ; by 
and by his grasp upon facts will tighten. From Marlowe 
and from Milton half of the world escapes. Shakspere 
will lay hold of it in its totality, and once that he has 
laid hold of it, will never let it go. 

This is the period of Shakspere's tentative dramatic 
efforts. Among these, notwithstanding strong external 
evidence, — the testimony of Meres, and the fact that 
Heminge and Condell included the play in the first 
folio, — ^it is difficult to admit Titus Andronicus. That 
tragedy belongs to the pre-Shaksperian school of bloody 
dramas. If any portions of it be from Shakspere's hand, 
it has at least this interest — it shows that there was a 
period of Shakspere's authorship when the poet had not 
yet discovered himself, a period when he yielded to the 
popular influences of the day and hour ; this much 
interest and no more. That Shakspere himself entered 
with passion or energy into the literary movement which 
the Spanish Tragedy of Kyd may be taken to represent, 
his other early writings forbid us to believe. The sup- 
posed Sturm und Drang period of Shakspere's artistic 

* Chettle's Kind Heart's Dream, 1592. But see Mr Howard Staun- 
ton's letter in The Atheruxum, Feb. 7th, 1874, Mr Simpson's article, 
•* Shakspere AUusion Books."— 77t« Academy, April 11, 1874 ; and Dr 
Ingleby's preface to ** Shakspere Allusion Books," published for the New 
Shakspere Society. 

Growth of Skaksperes Mind and Art. 55 

career exists only in the imagination of his German 
critics. The early years of Shakspere's authorship were 
years of bright and tender play of fancy and of feeling. 
If an epoch of storm and stress at any time arrived, it 
was when Shakspere's genius had reached its full 
maturity, and Lear was the product of that epoch. But 
then, if the storm and stress were prolonged and urgent, 
Shakspere possessed sufficient power of endurance, and 
had obtained sufficient grasp of the strong sure roots of 
life to save him from being borne away into the chaos 
or in any direction across the borders of the ordered 
realm of art. Upon the whole, Titus Andronicus may ' 
be disregarded. Even if it were a work of Shakspere 
we should stiU call it un-Shaksperian. " Shakspere's 
tragedy," Gerald Massey has truly said, " is the tragedy 
of Terror ; this is the tragedy of Horror. ... It reeks 
blood, it smells of blood, we almost feel that we have 
handled blood — it is so gross. The mental stain is not 
whitened by Shakspere's sweet springs of pity ; the 
horror is not hallowed by that appalling sublimity with 
which he invested his chosen ministers of death. It is 
tragedy only in the coarsest material relationships." * 

Of Pericles the portion written by Shakspere — the 
lovely little romance which Mr Fleay has separated 
from the coarse work of Rowley and Wilkins, and 

* Shakapeare's Sonnets and his Private Friends, p. 5S1. Ereyssig, 
who accepts Titus Andronicus as an early work of Shakspere, gives an 
elaborate study of the play. For matters of external evidence, &c., 
consult the article by H. Kurz in Shakespeare Jahrbuch, vol. v. ; and 
on characteristics of metre, the preface by Hertzberg in SchlegeFs and 
Tieck's translation, edited by members of the German Shakespeare 
Society. See also Mr Albert Cohn's '* Shakespeare in Germany," 
p. cxLi. 

5 6 Shakspere — His Mind and Art 

named " Marina," — ^belongs to the period of Shakspere's 
maturity, after 1600. Rowle/s work "is always 
detached and splits off from his coadjutors' with a clean 
cleavage. In Fletcher s Maid of the Mill the work of 
the two men might be published as two separate plays." * 
Similarly in the play A Cure for a Cuckold, the work 
of Rowley splits off from that of Webster, leaving the 
little drama which Mr Gosse claims the honour of having 
delivered out of the compound manufacture of the two 
authors, and which he has gracefully entitled Love's 

Setting aside Titus Andronicus and "Marina," four 
dramatic experiments by Shakspere remain, each in a 
different manner from the rest. First, a portion at least 
of the second and third parts of King Henry VI. — 
English historical drama.| The Two Gentlemen of 
Verona, a comedy of gracefril mirth and sprightly and 
tender feeling, with the interest of love predominant; 
Love's Labour's Lost, a comedy of dialogue, a piece of 
airy satire, with an underlying serious intention ; the 
Comedy of Errors, a comedy of incident, of almost 
farcical adventure — the sole attempt of Shakspere at 
imitation of the comic drama of ancient Rome. In this 

* TransactioxiB of the New Shakspere Society, part i. On the Play 
of Pericles by the Rev. F. G. Fleay. 

+ Fraser^s Magcaine, May 1874. " John Webster, " by Edmund W. 

X In Mr R. Grant White's Essay npon the authorship of Henry VI., 
he argues that the early Contention and the True Tragedie contain 
portions by Shakspere, afterwards transferred to his Henry VI. Parts 
XL and III. ; and that the remaining portions are by Marlowe, Greene, 
and Peele. I am unable to discover any of Marlowe's work in these 
old plays. 

Growth of Shaksperis Mind and Art. 5 7 

play Shakspere gaily confronts improbabilities, and re- 
quires the spectator to accept them. He adds to the 
twins Antipholus the twins Dromio. If we are in for im- 
probability, let us at least be repaid for it by fun, and 
have that in abundance. Let the incredible become a 
twofold incredibility, and it is none the worse.* We 
may conclude that, while Shakspere was ready to try 
his hand upon a farcical subject, a single experiment 
satisfied him that this was not his province ; for to such 
subjects he never returned. 

During the years in which the poet was experimenting 
in history, comedy, and farce, that about which he was 
most of all secretly concerned was a tragedy — a tragedy 
of a kind altogether different from Titus Andronicus, and 
the group of bloody plays to which it belongs. Such a 
graceful piece of comedy as The Two Gentlemen of Verona 
did not profoundly engage his imagination. If the fifth 
act came from Shakspere's pen as it now stands, we must 
believe that he handed over his play to the actors while a 
portion of it still remained only a hasty sketch, the cle- 
tiovutmend being left for future working outf But the 

* The source of this comedy ia nsuaUy said to be a tranfllation of 
the Menoecluni of Plautus, by W. Warner. Hertzberg, in his preface 
to the play in the German Shakspere Society's edition of Schlegers 
and Tieck's translation, carefully distinguishes the characters and in- 
cidents which Shakspere did noi owe to the MenoechmL In the article 
" Zwei nenentdeckte Shakespearequellen ^ (Die Literatur, January 16, 
1874), the writer, Dr Paul Wislicenus, points out another source in the 
Amphitruo. His supposition that the incident of the storm in the 
Comedy of Errors is derived from the storm in Pericles, must be set 
aside as untenable. Shakspere's acquaintance with the Amphitruo 
may have been made, in the first instance, through the rude English 
imitation of Plautus* comedy, « Jack Juggler." 

t Hertzberg is of opinion that either the play was re-handled and 
cut down by some Elizabethan playwright, or our text was imperfectly 

5 8 Shakspere — His Mind and Art. 

designed tragedy seems to have been the great affair of 
his literary career at this period. It is the opinion of 
Dyce, of Grant White, and of others, that Shakspere 
began to work upon Romeo and Juliet not later than 
about 1591; that is, according to the commonly re- 
ceived chronology, almost at the moment when he began 
. to write for the stage ; and that having occupied him for 
^ a series of years, the tragedy assumed its present form 
about 1695-97. If this be the case, and if, as there is 
reason to believe, Shakspere was also during many years 
interested in the subject of Hamlet, we discover a 
fact, which is characteristic of the poet; that he accepted 
the knowledge that his powers were undeveloped, and 
acted upon it, waiting with his two chosen subjects — the 
\{ story of the star-crossed lovers, and the story of the man 
summoned to action whose will was sapped — ^until he 

made up from copies of the parts of the several actors. If either of 
these hjrpotheses be correct, we are not in possession of Shakspere's 
complete play. The words addressed by Valentine to Proteus (Act V., 
Scene 4), *' All that is mine in Sylvia I give thee,'' cannot be an inter- 
polation, for they are needed to acconnt for Julia's fainting. Were 
they spoken by Valentine to test the loyalty of his professedly repent- 
ant friend ? And is there a gap here, originally occupied by speeches 
of Proteus and Sylvia? (See Hertzberg's preface in the German 
Shakspere Societ/s edition of SchlegePs and Tieck's translation.) 
Mr Fleay believes that the Two Gentlemen is the work of Shakspere 
and of a second writer. The first two acts, he maintains, are the only 
portion of the play by Shakspere. These, he thinks, were written 
between 1593 and 1596. Hertzberg also (relying partly, like Mr Fleay, 
on metrical evidence) assigns a later place to the Two Gentlemen of 
Verona in the succession of Shakespere's plays than that usually 
assigned by critics. I remain entirely unconvinced by the arguments 
for duplicity of authorship and for lateness of date. See on this sub- 
ject a lecture by Mr Hales reported in ThA Academy, January 31, 1874, 
and Mr FumivaU's criticism of the paper by Rev. F. G. Fleay in Trans- 
actions of the New Shakspere Society. 

Growth of Shaksperes Mind and Art. 59 

believed himself competent to do justice to his concep- 
tions. What a contrast is presented by this waiting of 
genius^ this patience " until the golden couplets are dis- 
closed," to the feverish eagerness of. Marlowe to appease 
his ambition, and imburden himself of the pressure of 
his imagination. 

As characteristic of these early plays, we may notice,* 
(i), frequency of rhyme, in various arrangements ; (a), 
rhymed couplets ; (6), rhymed quatrains ; (c), the 
sextain, consisting of an alternately rhyming quatrain, 
followed by a couplet (the arrangement of the last six 
lines of Shakspere's sonnets), (ii), Occurrence of rhymed 
doggrel verse in two forms, (a), very short lines, and (6), 
very long lines, (iii), comparative infrequency of the 
feminine (or double) ending ; (iv), comparative infre- 
quency of the weak-ending ; (v), comparative infrequency 
of the unstopped line ; (vi), regular internal structure of 
the line ; extra syllables seldom packed into the verse ; 
(vii), frequency of classical allusions ; (viii), frequency of • 
puns and conceits ; (ix), wit and imagery drawn out 
in detail to the point of exhaustion ; (x), clowns who 
are, by comparison with the later comic characters, 
outstanding persons in the play told off specially for | 
clownage ; (xi), the presence of termagant or shrewish 
women ; (xii), soliloquies addressed rather to the 
audience (to explain the business of the piece or the 
motives of the actors), than to the speakers self ; 
(xiii), symmetry in the grouping of persons. 

To illustrate the last of these characteristics — and each 

* See on this subject a lecture by Mr Hales, reported in Tht 
Academy, January 17th, 1874. 

6o Shakspere — His Mind and Art. 

of the above mentioned characteristics might readily be 
illustrated at length — we may observe the arrangement 
of dramatis personcB in The Two Gentlemen of Verona. 
Proteus the fickle is set over against Valentine the faith- 
ful; * Sylvia, the bright and intellectual, is set over against 
Julia, the ardent and tender ; Launce, the humourist, is 
set over against Speed, the wit. So, in Love's Labour's 
Lost, the king and his three fellow students balance the 
Princess and her three ladies. The arrangement is too 
geometrical ; the groups are obviously artificial, not 
organic and vital. This indicates a certain want of 
confidence on the part of the poet ; he fears the weight 
of too much liberty. He cannot yet feel that his 
structure is secure without a system of mechanism to 
support the structure. He endeavours to attain unity 
of effect less by the inspiration of a common life than by 
the disposition of parts. He finds he can bring forward 
his forces, in turn, one after another, more readily when 
they are numbered and marshalled in definite order. 
In the opening scene of his earliest tragedy, two Capulet 
men-servants are first introduced, next two Montague 
men-servants, then Benvolio on the Montague side, then 
Tybalt on the Capulet side, then on each side citizens, 
then old Capulet and Lady Capulet, then Montague and 
Lady Montague — ^finally, as keystone to bind all together, 
the Prince. Li the plays which belong to Shakspere's 
. period of mastership, he can dispense with such artifice. 
In these later plays unity is present through the virtue 

* When Mr Hales said, "Even Proteus* name is a sign of early 
work — ^tiie riper Shakspere does not like significant names,*' he forgot 
Perdita, Marina, Miranda. 

Growth of Shaksperes Mind and Art. 6 1 

of one living force which animates the whole. The unity 
is not merely structural, but vital. Aixd, therefore, the 
poet has no apprehension that the minor centres of 
development, in his creation, will suddenly become 
insubordinate. Assured that the organism is living, he 
fearlessly lets it develope itself in its proper mode, 
unicentral (as Macbeth), or multicentral (as King Lear). 
In the early plays structure determines function ; in the 
later plays organisation is preceded by life.* 

The growth of Shakspere's freedom, as an artist, was ' 
really identical with his paasing under the influence of a 
higher law. This statement which applies to the struc- , 
ture of his plajrs, applies in like manner to the altering 
character of his versification. For in truth, such an 

* Hebler in his ingenious and delightfully brief analyses of fourteen 
comedies of Shakspere endeavours to point out a curiously symmetrical 
arrangement in the structure and action of several, as well late as 
early. I give a few examples, abbreviating Hebler yet further. 7W 
OerUUmen, a loyal friend and lover set over against s^ disloyal. Merry 
Wives, an old sinner flouted and disappointed ; and a young pair of 
lovers whose roguery is sucoessfuL Measure for Measure, Angelo 
condemns Claudio to death for consummating his marriage without 
church rites ; by stratagem he is himself placed in an identical position 
of guilt. Comedy of Errors, the twins Dromio and their story repeat 
the twins Antipholus and theirs. MwK Ado, two lovers (Beatrice 
and Benedict), are brought together by an honest fraud ; two lovers 
(Claudio and Hero), are separated by a criminal fraud. Midsummer 
Nightie Dream, the love of Theseus and Hippoljrta— its course running 
smooth ; and the troubled course of love of the human mortals, of 
Obeion and Titania, and (as comic contrast), of Pyramus and Thisbe. 
AWs Well, a young nobleman misled by a false friend to whom he 
cleaves, and from whom he is separated at length ; and led aright by a 
true wife whom he deserts, and to whom he is united at length (The 
friend, I add, is all words without deeds,— ParoUes. The wife is deeds 
without words). See the interesting passage from Vischer, with 
reference to the double action of Shakspere's comedies, quoted by 
Hebler. AnfB&tze ttber Shakspeare, pp. 198, 199. 

6 2 Shakspere — His Mind and A rt. 

y^ apparently mechanical thing as the stopping of a passage 
of verse is not . mechanical, but in its essence spiritual. 
At first when we resolve to live a life somewhat higher 
than the common life of vulgar accident, we do well to 
put ourselves under a system of rules and precepts ; 
through strict observance of these we shall secure in a 
certain degree the ideality our life has need of. But in 
due time we fling away our manuals, our codes of 
spiritual drill, our little rules and restrictions. A deeper 
order takes authority over our being, and resumes in 
itself the narrower order ; the rhythm of our life acquires 
a larger harmony, a movement free and yet sure as that 
of nature. In like manner, a thought at first endeavours 
I to secure ideality for its life by adherence to a system of 
narrow rule. This is the explanation of the early 
manner of all great writers of verse, all great painters, 
and musicians, as compared with their later manner. 
Their style becomes free and daring, because the great 
facts of the world have now taken hold of them, and 
because their subjection to highest law is at length 
complete. They and their work are as free as the 
winds, or as the growing grass, or as the waves, or the 
' drift of clouds, or the motion of the stars. As free ; 
that is to say in complete, noble, and glad subjection. 

Love's Labour's Lost, if we do not assign that place 
to The Two Gentlemen of Verona, is the first independent, 
wholly original work of Shakspere. Mr Charles Knight 
named it " The Comedy of Affectations," and that title 
aptly interprets one intention of the play. It is a 

. satirical extravaganza embodying Shakspere's criticism 
upon contemporary fashions and foibles in speech, in 

Growth of Shakspere^s Mitid and Art 63 

manners, and in literature. This probably more than , 
any other of the plays of Shakspere suffers through 
lapse of time. Fantastical speech, pedantic learn- 
ing, extravagant love hyperbole, frigid fervours in 
poetry, against each of these, with the brightness and 
vivacity of youth, confident in the success of its cause, 
Shakspere directs the light artillery of his wit. Being 
young and clever, he is absolutely devoid of respect for 
nonsense, whether it be dainty, affected nonsense, or 
grave unconscious nonsense. 

But over and above this, there is a serious intention in 
the play. It is a protest against youthful schemes of shap- 
ing life according to notions rather than according to reality, 
a protest against idealizing away the facts of life. The 
play is chiefly interesting as containing Shakspere s confess 
sion of faith with respect to the true principles of self-cul- 
ture. The King of Navarre and his young lords had resolved 
for a definite period of time to circumscribe their beings 
and their lives with a little code of rules. They had 
designed to enclose a little favoured park in which ideas 
should rule to the exclusion of the blind and rude forces 
of nature. They were pleased to rearrange human 
character and human life, so that it might accord with 
their idealistic scheme of self-development. The court 
was to be a little Academe ; no woman was to be 
looked at for the space of three years ; food and sleep 
were to be placed under precise regulation. And the 
result is, what ? That human nature refuses to be 
dealt with in this fashion of arbitrary selection and 
rejection. The youthful idealists had supposed that they 
would form a little group of select and refined ascetics of 

64 Skakspere — His Mind and Art 

knowledge and culture ; it was quickly proved that they 
were men. The play is Shakspere's declaration in 
favour of the fact as it is. Here, he says, we are with 
such and such appetites and passions. Let us in any 
scheme of self-development get ihaJt fact acknowledged 
at all events. Otherwise, we shall quickly enough 
betray ourselves as arrant fools, fit to be flouted by 
women, and needing to learn from them a portion of 
their directness, practicality, and good sense. 

And yet the Princess, and Rosaline, and Maria, have not 
the entire advantage on their side. It is well to be prac- 
tical ; but to be practical, and also to have a capacity for 
ideas is better. JBarowne, the exponent of Shakspere's 
own thought, who entered into the youthful, idealistic 
project of his friends with a satisfactory assurance that 
the time would come when the entire dream-structure 
would tumble ridiculously about the ears of them all, — 
Berowne is yet a larger nature than the Princess or 
Rosaline. Hi^ good sense is the good sense of a thinker 
and of a man of action. When he is most flouted and 
bemocked, we yet acknowledge him victorious and the 
master ; and Rosaline will confess the fact by and by. 

In the midst of merriment and nonsense comes a sudden 
and grievous incursion of fact full of pain. The father 
of the Princess is dead. All the world is not mirth — 
" this side is Hiems, Winter, this Ver, the Spring." 
The lovers must part ; " Jack hath not his Jill," and to 
engrave the lesson deeply, which each heart needs, the 
king and two of his companions are dismissed for a 
twelvemonth to learn the difference between reality and 
unreality, while Berowne, who has known the mirth of 

Growth of Shaksperes Mind and Art. 65 

the world, must also make acquaintance with its sorrow, 
must visit the speechless sick and try to win " the 
pained impotent to smile." 

Let us get hold of the realities of human nature and 
human life, Shakspere would say, and let us found upon 
these realities, and not upon the mist or the air, our 
schemes of individual and social advancement. Not that 
Shakspere is hostile to culture ; but he knows that a 
perfect education must include the culture, through 
actual experience, of the senses and of the affections. 
Long after this play was written, Shakspere imagined 
Perdita, his shepherdess-princess, possessed of all the 
grace and refinement of perfect breeding with all the 
innocence, and native liberty of rustic girlhood. Perdita 
refuses to admit into her garden the parti-coloured 
flowers that have been artificially produced, " streaked 
gillyvors, which some call nature's bastards." But intd 
Polixenes' mouth Shakspere puts an unanswerable 
defence of culture, so that to make good her decision 
there remains to Perdita only an exquisite instinct of 
unreasoning sincerity, or a graceful wilfulness which 
refuses to be convinced : — 

Pol, Wherefore, gentle maiden, 

Do yon neglect them ? 
Per, For I have heard it aaid, 

There is an art which, in their piedneas, sharea 

With great creating nature. 
PoL Say, there be ; 

Yet nature is made better by no mean 

But nature makes that mean ; bo over that art * 

Which you say adds to nature, is an art 

That nature makes. You see, sweet maid, we marry 

• \ 

* Professor Craik conjectured—" even that art." 

66 Shakspere — His Mind and Art, 

A gentler scioii to the wildest stock, 

And make conceive a bark of baser kind 

By bud of nobler race ; this is an art 

Which does mend nature, change it rather, but 

The art itself is nature. 
Per, So it is. 

Pol. Then make your garden rich in gillyvprs 

And do not call them bastards. 
Ptr, m not put 

The dibble in earth to set qpe slip of them. 

Shakspere's view of human culture and human life 
admitted no essential opposition between Perdita's 
instinct of sincerity, and the maturer wisdom of 

. In the second act of the Comedy of Errors (scene ii.) 
occurs the following dialogue : — 

Luciana. Dromio, go bid the servants spread for dinner. 
Dro, 5. 0, fpr my beads ! I cross me for a sinner. 

This is the fairy -land : spite of spites ! 

We talk with goblins, owls, and sprites ; 

If we obey them not, this will ensue, — 

Tbey*ll suck our breath or pinch us black and blue. 
Luc. Why prat*8t thou to thyself and answer^st not ? 

Dromio, thou drone, thou snail, thou slug, thou sot ! 
Dro. S. I am transform^, master, am I not ? 
Atd. S. I think thou art, in mind, and so am I. 
Dro. S. Nay, master, both in mind and in my shape. 
Aut. S. Thou hast thine own form. 
J>ro. S. No, I am an ape. 

Luc. If thou art changed to aught ^tis to an ass. 

When Shakspere wrote thus of fairy-land, of the 
pranks of Robin Goodfellow, and of the transformation 
of a man to an ass, can it be doubted that he had in 
his thoughts A Midsummer Night's Dream ? The play 
was perhaps so named because it is a dream-play, the 
fantastic adventures of a night, and because it was first 

Growth of Shaksperes Mind and Art 67 

represented in midsummer — ^the midsummer, perh.'ips, 
of 1594. The imagined season of the action of the 
play is the beginning of May, for according to the mag- 
nificent piece of mediaeval-classical mythology embodied 
here, and in the Knightes Tale of Chaucer, and again in the 
Two Noble Kinsmen of Shakspere and Fletcher, this was 
the month of Theseus' marriage with his Amazonian 
bride.* In like manner the play of Twelfth Night 
received its name probably because it was first enacted 
at that season of festivity, and as if to declare more 
emphatically that it shall be nameless, Shakspere adds 
a second title Twelfth Night, or What you will, that is 
(for we need seek no deeper significance) — Twelftli 
Night, or anything you like to .call it. A Midsummer 
Night's Dream was written on the occasion of the 
marriage of some noble couple — possibly for the 
marriage of the poet's patron Southampton with Eliza- 
beth Vernon, as Mr Gerald Massey supposes ; possibly at 
an earlier datQ to do honour to the marriage of the Earl 
of Essex with Lady Sidney, f 

* Titania says to Oberon, Act ii., Scene i. 

And never since the middle summer's spring 
Met we on hill, in dale, forest, or mead, &;c. 

Perhaps a night in early May might be considered a night in the 
spring of midsummer. 

t Mr Massey is obliged to entertain the supposition that the play 
was written some time before the marriage actually took place (1598), 
'* at a period when it may have been thought the Queen's consent oould 

be obtained I have ventured the date of 1595." Shakespear^ 

Sonnets and his Private Friends, p. 481. Professor Karl Elze's theory, 
maintained in a highly ingenious paper in Shakespeare Jahrbuch, vol. 
iii., that the play was written for the marriage of the young Earl of 
Essex, would throw back the date to 1590. There is much to be said 
in favour of this opinion. See also the exceUent article (partly in the 
way of criticism and of continuation of Karl Elze's), by Hermann Kurz in 

68 Shakspere — His Mind and Art 

The central figure of the play is that of Theseus. 
There is no figure in the early drama of Shakspere 
so magnificent His are the large hands that have 
helped to shape the world. His utterance is the 
rich-toHed speech of one who is master of events — 
who has never known a shrill or eager feeling. His 
nuptial day is at hand ; and while the other lovers 
are agitated, bewildered, incensed, Theseus, who does 
not think of himself as a lover but rather as a beneficent 
conqueror, remains in calm possession of his joy. 
Theseus, a grand ideal figure, is to be studied as 
Shakspere's conception of the heroic man of action in his 
hour of enjoyment and of leisura With a splendid 
capacity for enjoyment, gracious to all, ennobled by the 
glory, implied rather than explicit, of great foregone 
achievement, he stands as centre of the poem, giving 
their true proportions to the fairy tribe upon the one 
hand, and upon the other to the "human mortals." 
The heroic men of action, Theseus, Henry V., Hector, — 
are supremely admired by Shakspere. Yet it is observ- 
able that as the total Shakspere is superior to Romeo, 
the man given over to passion, and to Hamlet, the man 
given over to thought, so the Hamlet and the Romeo 
within him give Shakspere an infinite advantage over 
even the most heroic men of action. He admires these 

Shakeopeare Jahrbuch, vol. iy. lUnstratioiiB of the Fairy Mythology of 
A Midrammer Night's Dream will be found in the yolume by Halliwell 
bearing that name, issaed by the Shakeepeare Society (1846), and alio 
in Shakspere-Forschnngen, ii., Nachklftnge Qermaniacher Mythe, by 
Benno Tsohiachwits (1868). Mr Halpin's exceedingly ingenious study 
of Oberon's Yinon interprets that celebrated passage as having 
reference to Leicester's intrigne with Lettice, daughter of Sir Francis 
Knollys, and wife of Walter Devereux, Earl of Essex. 

Growth of Shakspere's Mind and Art, 69 

men of action supremely, but he admires them from an 
outside point of view. " These fellows of infinite 
tongue/' says Henry, wooing the French princess, '' that 
can rhyme themselves into ladies' favours, they do 
always reason themselves out again. What ! a speaker 
is but a prater, a rhyme is but a ballad." It is into 
Theseus' mouth that Shakspere puts the words which 
class together '' the lunatic, the lover, and the poet " as 
of imagination all compact. That is the touch, which 
shows how Shakspere stood olff from Theseus, did not 
identify himself with this grand ideal (which he admired 
so truly), and admitted to himself a secret superiority 
of his own soul over that of this noble master of the 

Comments by Shakspere upon his own art are not so 
numerous that we can afford to overlook them. It must 
here be noted that Shakspere makes the "palpable 
gross " interlude of the Athenian mechanicals serve as 
an indirect apology for his own necessarily imperfect 
attempt to represent fsdry land, and the majestic world 
of heroic life. Maginn writes, " When Hippolyta speaks 
scornfully of the tragedy in which Bottom holds so con- 
spicuous a part, Theseus answers that the best of this 
kind " [scenic performances] '' are but shadows, and the 
worst no worse, if imagination ameud them. She 
answers " [for Hippolyta has none of Theseus' indulgence 
towards inefficiency, but rather a woman's intolerance of 
the absurd], ''that it must be your imagination then, not 
ikeira. He retorts with a joke on the vanity of actors, 
and the conversation is immediately changed. The 
meaning of the Duke is that, however we may laugh at 

70 SJtakspere — His Mind and Art, 

the sillineBS of Bottom and bis companions in their 
ridiculous play, the author labours under no more than 
the common calamity of dramatists. They are all but 
dealers in shadowy representations of life, and if the 
worst among them can set the mind of the spectator at 
work, he is equal to the best." * 

Maginn has missed the more important significance of 
the passage. Its dramatic appropriateness is the essential 
point to observe. To Theseus, the great man of action, 
the worst and the best of these shadowy representations 
are all one. He graciously lends himself to be amused, 
and wiU not give unmannerly rebuff to the painstaking 
craftsmen who have so laboriously done their best to 
please him. But Shakspere's mind by no means goes 
along with the utterance of Theseus in this instance any 
more than when he places in a single group the lover, 
the lunatic, and the poet With one principle enounced 
by the duke, however, Shakspere evidently does agree, 
namely, that it is the business of the dramatist to set 
the spectator's imagination to work, that the dramatist 
must rather appeal to the mind's eye than to the eye of 
sense, and that the co-operation of the spectator with 
the poet is necessary. For the method of Bottom and 
his company is precisely the reverse, as Qervinus has 
observed, of Shakspere's own method. They are 
determined to leave nothing to be supplied by the 
imagination. Wall must be plaistered ; Moonshine 
must carry lanthom and bush. And when Hippolyta, 
again becoming impatient of absurdity, exclaims, " I am 

* Shakspeare Papers, p. 119. 

Growth of Shakspcre's Mind and Art. 71 

aweary of this moon ! would he would change ! " Shak- 
spere further insists on his piece of dramatio criticism by 
urging, through the duke's mouth, the absolute necessity 
of the man in the moon being within his lanthom. 
Shakspere as much as says, " If you do not approve my 
dramatic method of presenting fairy land and the heroic 
world, here is a specimen of the rival method. You 
think my fairy-world might be amended. Well, amend 
it with your own imagination. I can do no more unless 
I adopt the artistic ideas of these Athenian handicrafts- 
men." * 

It is a delightful example of Shakspere's impartiality 
that he can represent Theseus with so much genuine 
enthusiasm. Mr Matthew Arnold has named our 
aristocrats with their hardy, efficient manners, their 
addiction to field sports, and their hatred of ideas, " the 
Barbarians." Theseus is a splendid and gracious 
aristocrat, perhaps not without a touoh of the Barbarian 
in him. He would have found Hamlet a wholly 
unintelligible person, who, in possession of his own 
thoughts, could be contented in a nutshell. When 
Shakspere vrrote the Two Gentlemen of Verona, in 
which, with little dramatic propriety, the Duke of 
Milan celebrates " the force of heaven-bred poesy," we 
may reasonably suppose that the poet might not have 
been quite just to one who was indifferent to art. But 

* On Shakspere's studies of chivalric, mediaeval poetry see some 
interesting pages in Mr Spalding's " Letter on Shakspere's authorship 
of the Two Noble Kinsmen,'* pp, 67-75; the article '^Chaucer and 
Shakspere " in the Quarterly Review, January 1873 ; and Hertzberg's 
learned discussion of the sources of the Troilus story in Shakespeare^ 
Jahrbuch, voL vi. 

\ \ 

7 2 Shakspere — His Mind and A rt. 

V now his self-mastery has increased, and therefore with 
unfeigned sa/tisfaction he presents Theseus, the master of 
the world, who, having beauty and heroic strength in 
actual possession does not need to summon them to 
occupy his imagination — the great chieftain to whom art 
is a very small concern of life, fit for a leisure hour 
between battle and battle. Theseus, who has nothing 
antique or Grecian about him, is an idealized study from 
the life. Perhaps he is idealized Essex, perhaps idealized 
Southampton. Perhaps some night a dramatic company 
was ordered to perform in presence of a great Elizabethan 
noble — ^we know not whom — ^who needed to entertain 
his guests, and there, in a moment of fine imaginative 
vision, the poet discovered Theseus. 

A Midsummer Night's Dream is, as its name implies, 
a phantasmagory ; a mask of shadows full of marvel, 
surprises, splendour, and grotesqueness. But during the 
same years in which Shakspere was writing his comedies, 
and while he was engaged upon his first great tragedy, 
he continued also steadily at work upon his series of 
English historical plays. The culture afforded to Shak- 
spere by the writing of these plays was highly important 
at that precise period of his career. The substantial 
matter, upon which he was engaged, served to extend 
and consolidate that relation which was establishing it- 
self slowly but surely between the imagination of the 
dramatist and the actual world. The tough clay of his- 
torical fact did not take artistic shape too readily, and 
his hands were strengthened by the labour of moulding 
it into form. In treating historical subjects, moreover, 
unrealities of every kind must be sternly set aside ; no 

Growth of Shakspere' s Mind and Art 73 

graceful poetical phrasing, no delicate conceits, no quips 
and cranks of wit, Shakspere perceived, would compen- 
sate here for want of fidelity to the essential truth of 
things. Then, again, if in writing Romeo and Juliet 
Shakspere ran a certain risk of abandoning his genius 
over much to lyrical intensity, the culture aflforded by the 
historical dramas acted as a safeguard. If in his early 
comedies Shakspere relied upon symmetry of arrange- 
ment for securing unity of design, here such symmetry 
was obviously unattainable, and he must look for a deeper 
ground of unity. 

But the most important influence exercised by his 
dramatic studies in English history upon the mind of 
Shakspere was that they engaged his imagination in 
an inquiry into the sources of power and of weakness, of 
success and of failure in a man's dealing with the 
positive, social world. They kept constantly before 
Shakspere's mind the problem, " How is a man to ob- 
tain a mastery of the actual world, and in what ways 
may he fail of such mastery ?" This was a subject in 
which Shakspere had a personal interest, for he was 
himself resolved, as far as in him lay, not to fail in 
this material life of ours, but rather, if possible, to be 
for his own needs a master of events. The portraits of 
English kings from King John to King Henry Y. are a 
series of studies of weakness and of strength for the 
attaining of kingly ends. To fail is the supreme sin. 
Worse almost than criminality is weakness, except that 
crime besides being crime, is itself a certain kind of 
weakness. Henry VI. is a timid saint ; it were better 
that he had been a man. Does his timid saintliness 

74 Skakspere — His Mind and Art. 

serve him in the place of energy of thought and will, or 
secure him from a miserable overthrow ? It is important 
to observe the fundamental difference which exists be- 
tween the series of English historical plays and the 
great series of tragedies, beginning with Hamlet, ending 
with Timon of Athens, in which Shakspere embodied 
his ripest experience of life. In the historical plays the 
question which inevitably comes forward again and again 
is this, " By what means shall a man attain the noblest 
practical success in the objective world ? " In the great 
tragedies the problem is a spiritual one. It is still the 
problem of failure and success. But in these tragedies 
success means not any practical achievement in the 
world, but the perfected life of the soul; and failure 
means the ruin of the life of a soul through passion or 
weakness, through calamity or crime. 

The historical plays lead up to Henry V. ; in the chrono- 
logical succession of Shakspere's plays the last of the series. 
The tragedies lead up to The Tempest, which closes Shak- 
spere's entire career as draiiiatist Gervinus has spoken 
of King Henry V. as if he were Shakspere's ideal of 
highest manhood, and other critics have assented to this 
opinion. It is an opinion which, stated in an unquali- 
fied way, must be set aside as not warranted by the facts of 
Shakspere's dramas. But it is clear and unquestionable 
that King Henry V. is Shakspere's ideal of the practical 
heroic character. He is the king who will not fail. He will 
not fail as the saintly Henry VL failed, nor as Richard 
II. failed, a hectic, self-indulgent nature, a mockery king 
of pageantry, and sentiment, and rhetoric ; nor will he 
only partially succeed by prudential devices, and strata- 

Growth of SAakspere's Mind and Art, 75 

gems, and crimes, like his father, "great Bolingbroke." 
The success of Henry V. will be sound throughout, and 
it will be complete. With his glorious practical virtues, 
his courage, his integrity, his unfaltering justice, his 
hearty English warmth,* his modesty, his love of plain- 
ness rather than of pageantry, his joyous temper, his 
business-like English piety, Henry is indeed the ideal of 
the king who must attain a success complete, and 
thoroughly real and sound. 

But is this practical, positive, efficient character, 
with his soldier-like piety and [his jolly fashion of 
wooing, is' this the highest ideal of our supreme 
poet? Is this the highest ideal of Shakspere, who 
lived, and moved, and had his being not alone in 
the world of limitation, of tangible, positive fact, but 
also in a world of the soul, a world opening into two 
endless vistas, the vista of meditation and the vista 
of passion. Assuredly it is not so. We turn to 
the great tragedies, and what do we there discover? 
In these Shakspere is engaged in a series of studies not 
concerning success in the mastery of events and things, 
but concerning the higher success and the more awful 
failure which appear in the exaltation or the ruin 
of a soul. This with Shakspere is the true theme 
of tragedy. Having exhibited various calamity over- 
taking the being and essential life of man, calamity com- 
monly arising from flaws of character which disclose them- 
selves and become formidable in the test of circumstances, 
having shown in Macbeth, in Antony, in Othello, in Corio- 
lanus the ruin of character in greater or less degree, 
Shakspere represented absolute, overwhelming, irre- 

76 Shakspere — His Mifid and Art. 

trievable ruin in Timon of Athens, a play written 
probably not long before the Tempest. And, after ex- 
hibiting the absolute ruin of a life and of a soul, Shak- 
spere closed the wonderful series of his dramatic writings 
by exhibiting the noblest elevation of character, the most 
admirable attainment of heart, of intellect, of will, which 
our present life admits, in the person of Prospero. What 
more was left for Shakspere to say? Is it so very 
strange that he accepted as a good possesSsion the calm 
energy of his Stratford life, having at last whoUy libe- 
rated his mind % 

Shakspere, when he had completed his English his- 
■ y torical plays, needed rest for his imagination ; and in 
such a mood, craving refreshment and recreation, he 
vrrote his play of As You Like It. To understand 
the spirit of this play, we must bear in mind that 
it was written immediately after Shakspere's great 
series of histories, ending with Henry V. (1599), and 
before he began the great series of tragedies. Shakspere 
turned with a sense of relief, and a long easeful sigh, 
from the oppressive subjects of history, so grave, so real, 
so massive, and found rest and freedom and pleasure in 
escape from courts and camps to the Forest of Arden : 

Who doth ambition shun, 
And loyes to live i' the bud, 

Gome hither, come hither, oome hither. 

In somewhat the same spirit needing relief for an 
overstrained imagination he wrote his other pastoral 
drama, The Winter's Tale, immediately or almost imme- 
diately after Timon of Athens. In each case he chose a 
graceful story in great part made ready to his hand, from 

Growth of Shaksperis Mind and Art. 77 

among the proee writrngs of his early oontemporaries, 
Thomas Lodge and Robert Greene. like the banished 
Duke, Shakspere himself found the forest life of Arden 
more sweet than that of painted pomp ; a life '' exempt 
from public haunt," in a quiet retreat, where for turbu- 
lent citizens, the deer, " poor dappled fools," are the only 
native burghers. 

The play has been represented by one of its recent 
editors as an early attempt made by the poet to control 
the dark spirit of melancholy in himself " by thinking it 
away." The characters of the banished Duke, of 
Orlando, of Rosalind are described as three gradations 
of cheerfulness in adversity, with Jacques placed over 
against them in designed contrast.* But no real 
adversity has come to any one of them. Shakspere, 
when he put into the Duke's mouth the words, " Sweet 
are the uses of adversity," knew something of deeper 
affliction than a life in the golden leisure of Arden. Of 
real melancholy there is none in the play ; for the 
melancholy of Jacques is not grave and earnest, but 
sentimental, a self-indulgent humour, a petted foible of 
character, melancholy prepense and cultivated ; " it is a 
melancholy of mine own, compounded of many simples, 
extracted from many objects; and indeed the sundry 
contemplation of my travels, in which my often 
rumination wraps me in a most humorous sadness." 
The Duke declares that Jacques has been " a libertine, 
as sensual as the brutish sting itself ; " but the Duke 
is unable to understand such a character as that of 

• As You Like it, edited by the Rev. C. £. Moberly (1872), pp. 7-9. 

78 Shakspere — His Mind and Art. 

Jacques.*^ Jacques has been no more than a curious 

experimenter in libertinism^ for the sake of adding an 

experience of madness and folly to the store of various 

superficial experiences which constitute his unpractical 

foolery of wisdom. The haunts of sin have been 

visited as a part of his travel. By and by he will go 

to the usurping Duke who has put on a religious life, 


Out of these convertiteB 
There is much matter to be heard and learned. 

Jacques died, we know not how, or when, or where ; 
but he came to life again a century later, and ap- 
peared in the world as an English clergyman ; we 
need stand in no doubt as to his character, for we all 
know him under his later name of Lawrence Sterne. 
Mr Yorick made a mistake about his family tree ; he 
came not out of the play of Hamlet, but out of As You 
Like It In Arden he wept and moralised over the 
wounded deer ; and at Namport his tears and sentiment 
gushed forth for the dead donkey. Jacques knows no 
bonds that imite him to any living thing. He lives 
upon novel, curious, and delicate sensations. He seeks 
the delicious imprSvu so loved and studiously sought for 
by that perfected French egoist, Henri Beyle. "A fool ! 
a fool ! I met a fool i' the forest ! " — and in the delight 
of coming upon this exquisite surprise, Jacques laughs 

like chanticleer. 

Sans intermission 
An hour by his dial. 

* The Duke accordingly repels Jacques. Jacques—**! have been 
all this day to avoid him; he is too disputable for my company; I 
think of as many matters as he, but I give heaven thanks, and make 
no boast of them.*' 

Growth of Shaksperes Mind and Art. 79 

His whole life is unsubstantial and unreal ; a curiosity 
of dainty mockery. To him '* all the world's a stage, 
and all the men and women merely players ; '' to him 
sentiment stands in place of passion ; an aesthetic, ama- 
teurish experience of various modes of life stands in 
place of practical wisdom ; and words, in place of deeds. 
" He fatigues me," wrote our earnest and sensitive 
Thackeray of the Jacques of English literature, "with 
his perpetual disquiet and his uneasy appeals to my 
risible or sentimental faculties. He is always looking - 
in my face, watching his effect, uncertain whether I 
think him an impostor or not ; posture-making, coaxing, 
and imploring me. ' See what sensibility I have — own 
now that Fm very clever — do cry now, you can't resist 
this.* '* Yes ; for Jacques was at his best in the Forest 
of Arden, and was a little spoiled by preaching weekly 
sermons, and by writing so long a caprice as his Tristram 
Shandy. Shakspere has given us just enough of Jacques; 
and not too much * and in his undogmatic, artistic, ten- 
der, playful, and yet earnest manner upon Jacques 
Shakspere has pronounced judgment. Falstaff supposed 
that by infinite play of wit, and inexhaustible resource 
of a genius creative of splendid mendacity, he could 
coruscate away the facts of life, and always remain mas- 
ter of the situation by giving it a clever turn in the 
idea, or by playing over it with an arabesque of arch 

I know thee not, old man ; fall to thy prayers ; 
How ill white hairs become a fool and jester ! 

That was the terrible incursion of fact; such words as 
these, coming from the lips of a man who had an uner- 

8o Shakspere — His Mind and A rt 

ring perception, and an unfaltering grasp of the fact, were 
more than words, — ^they were a deed^ which FalstaiF the 
unsubduable, with all his wit, could not coruscate away. 
'* By my troth, he'll yield the crow a pudding one of 

I these days ; the king has kill'd his heart" Jacques in 
his own way supposes that he can dispense with realities. 
The world, not as it is, but as it mirrors itself in his own 
mind, which gives to each object a humorous distortion ; 
this is what alone interests Jacques. Shakspere would 

t say to us, " This egoistic, contemplative, unreal manner 
of treating life is only a delicate kind of foolery, fieal 
knowledge of life can never be acquired by the curious 

^ seeker for experiences." But this Shakspere says in his 
non-hortatory, undogmatic way. 

Upon the whole. As You Like It is the sweetest and 
happiest of all Shakspere's comedies. No one suffers ; 
no one lives an eager intense life ; there is no tragic in- 
terest in it as there is in the Merchant of Venice, as 
there is in Much Ado about Nothing. It is mirthful, 
but the mirth is sprightly, graceful, exquisite ; there is 
none of the rollicking fun of a Sir Toby here ; the songs 
are not " coziers' catches " shouted in the night time, 
" without any mitigation or remorse of v^ice," but the 
solos and duets of pages in the wild-wood, or the noisier 
chorus of foresters. The wit of Touchstone is not mere 
clownage, nor has it any indirect serious significances ; it 
is a dainty kind of absurdity worthy to hold comparison 
with the melancholy of Jacques. And Orlando in the 
beauty and strength of early manhood, and Rosalind, 

A gallant cartle-axe upon ber thigh, 
A boar-spear in her hand, 


Growth of Shaksperes Mind and Art 81 

and the bright, tender, loyal womanhood within — are 
figures which quicken and restore our spirits, as music 
does, which is neither noisy nor superficial, and yet which 
knows little of the deep passion and sorrow of the world. 
Shakspere, when he wrote this idyllic play, was himself 
in his Forest of Arden. He had ended one great ambi- 
tion — the historical plays — and not yet commenced his 
tragedies It was a resting-place. He sends his imagi- 
nation into the woods to find repose. Instead of the 
court and camps of England, and the embattled plains of 
France, here was this woodland scene, where the palm- 
tree, the lioness, and the serpent are to be found ; pos- 
sessed of a flora and fauna that flourish in spite of 
physical geographers. There is an open-air feeling 
throughout the play. The dialogue, as has been ob- 
served, catches freedom and freshness from the atmo- 
sphere. " Never is the scene within-doors, except when 
something discordant is introduced to heighten as it were 
the harmony." * After the trumpet-tones of Henry V. 
comes the sweet pastoral strain, so bright, so tender. 
Must it not be all in keeping i Shakspere was not try- 
ing to control his melancholy. When he needed to do 
that, Shakspere confronted his melancholy veiy passion- 
ately, and looked it full in the face. Here he needed 
refreshment, a sunlight tempered by forest-boughs, a 
breeze upon his forehead, a stream murmuring in his 

* 0. A. Brown. Shakespeare's Autobiographical Poems, p. 283. 

t Hebler writes of As You Like It,—" Es ist eine Waldcur fitr liof- 
leute, die zmn Glilck mit heatigen Bad- oder Loftcuren das gemein hat, 
dass viele Gresunde dabei sind. So vor Allen Orlando nnd Rosalindc, 
fttr welche beide die Cur keine andere Bedeutang hat, als ihre Liebe 



8 2 Shakspere — His Mind and A rt 

Of the group of comedies which belong to this period 
the two latest in date are probably Measure for Measure 
and All's Well that' Ends Well When the former of 
these plays was written Shakspere was evidently bidding 
farewell to mirth ; its significance is grave and earnest ; 
the humorous scenes would be altogether repulsive were 
it not that they are needed to present without disguise or 
extenuation the world of moral licence and corruption out 
of and above which rise the virginal strength and severity 
and beauty of Isabella. At the entrance to the dark and 
dangerous tragic world into which Shakspere was now 
about to pass stand the figures of Isabella and of Helena, 
— one the embodiment of conscience, the other the em- 
bodiment of will. Isabella is the only one of Shakspere's 
women whose heart and eyes are fixed upon an imper- 
sonal ideal, to whom something abstract is more, in the 
ardour and energy of her youth, than any human per- 
sonality. Out of this Vienna in which 

Corraption boils and babbles 
Till it o*emm the stew, 

emerges this pure zeal, this rectitude of will, this virgin 
sanctity. Isabella's saintliness is not of the passive, 
timorous, or merely meditative kind. It is an active 
pursuit of holiness through exercise and discipline. She 

anf die lieblicbste Weise znr Encheinung nnd Reife zii bringen, wah- 
rend dae yorilbergehend Bedenklicbe ibrer Lage den AUes, selbst die 
Liebe nocb, verocbonenden Gotterfnnken dea Humors bervorlockt. 
Daneben der Contrast der blossen lieben Natur in dem Scb&ferptUlrcben, 
and die beitere Parodie des idylliscben Hoflebens in der Heirath dee 
Narren mit einem Landmadcben, wabrend der Blasirte ( Jacqaes) ancb 
der friscbesten Natar seine eigene Farbe ankrankelt." — Aafsfttze Uber 
Hbakeepeare, p. 195. 

Growth of Shakspere's Mind and Art 83 

knows nothing of a Manichean hatred of the body ; the 
life runs strongly and gladly in her veins ; simply her 
soul is set upon things belonging to the soul, and uses 
the body for its own purposes. And that the life of the 
soul may be invigorated she would bring every unruly 
thought into captivity, " having in a readiness to revenge 
all disobedience." 

hob. And have you nuns no farther privileges? 

Tran, Are these not large enough ? 

Jsa&. Yes, truly. I speak not as desiring more ; 

But rather wishing a more strict restraint 

Upon the sisterhood. 

This severity of Isabella proceeds from no real turning 
away on her part from the joys and hopes of woman- 
hood ; her brother, her schoolfellow Julia, the memory of 
her father are precious to her ; her severity is only a 
portion of the vital energy of her heart ; living actively she 
must live purely ; and to her the cloister is looked upon as 
the place where her energy can spend itself in stem 
efiorts towards ideal objects. Bodily suffering is bodily 
suffering to Isabella, whose " cheek-roses " proclaim her 
physical health and vigour ; but bodily suffering is 
swallowed up^ in the joy of quickened spiritual 
existence : — 

Were I under the terms of death 

The impression of keen whips Td wear as rubies, 

And strip myself to death, as to a bed 

That longing have been sick for ere Td yield 

My body up to shame. 

And as she has strength to accept pain and dea-th for 
herself rather than dishonour, so she can resolutely \ 
accept pain and death for those who are dearest to her. 

84 Shakspere — His Mind and Art 

When Claudio falters back dismayed from the immediate 

prospect of the grave, Isabella utters her piteous 

'* Alas, alas ! " to perceive the tenderness and timorous- 

ness of his spirit ; but when he faintly invites her to 

yield herself to shame for his sake, she severs herself 

with indignation, not from her brother, not from 

Claudio, but from this disgrace of manhood in her 

brother's form — this treason against fidelity of the 

heart : 

0, you beaat I 
0, faithless coward ! O, dishonest wretch ! 
Wilt thou be made a man out of my vice ? 

Take my defiance ! 
Die; perish 1 

Isabella does not return to the sisterhood of Saint 
Clare. Putting aside from her the dress of religion, and 
the strict conventual rule, she accepts her place as 
Duchess of Vienna. In this there is no dropping away, 
through love of pleasure or through supineness, from her 
ideal ; it is entirely meet and right. She has learned 
that in the world may be found a discipline more strict, 
more awful than the discipline of the convent ; she has 
learned that the world has need of her ; her life is still 
a consecrated life ; the vital energy of her heart can 
exert and augment itself through glad and faithful wife- 
hood, and through noble station more fully than in 
seclusion. To preside over this polluted and feculent 
Vienna is the office and charge of Isabella, " a thing 
ensky'd and sainted : " 

Spirits are not finely touched 
But to fine issues ; nor Nature never lends 
' * The siuaUest scruple of her excellence, 

Growth of Shaksperes Mind and Art 85 

But^ like a thrifty goddesB, she detennineB 
Herself the glory of a creditor, — 
Both thanks and use.* 

In All's Well that ends Well, a subject of extreme 
diflSculty, when regarded on the ethical side, was treated 
by Shakespere with a full consciousness of its difficulty, t 
A woman who seeks her husband, and gains him 
against his will; who afterwards by a fraud — a fraud 
however pious — defeats his intention of estranging her, 
and becomes the mother of his child ; such a personage 
it would seem a sufficiently difficult task to render at- 

* Measure for Meaanre, Act L , Scene L 

t Years wide apart have been assigned for the date of All's Well 
that ends Well. Mr Fleay believes that it was written at two different 
periods, and that the play contains early and later work, which he 
endeavours to separate. His date forfthe completed play is 1602. H. 
von Friesen is also of opinion that this is one of Shakspere's earliest plays, 
and was afterwards rehandled. See Shakespeare Jahrbuch, voL ii., 
pp. 48-54. So also Gervinus. (H. von Friesen observes resemblances 
of style to the Duke's speeches in Measure for Measure ; and Prof. 
Karl Blze points out various parallels to passages in Hamlet. Shake- 
speare Jahrbuch, vii., pp. 235-36.) Delius, whose opinion on such a 
matter must be regarded as weighty, pronounces the style and 
the verse throughout to be different in their characteristic peculiari- 
ties from those of Shakspere's early plaj^s. Professor Hertzberg 
assigns the date 1603 ; and he expressly denies that an early and later 
style are observable in the play. " Man muss eingestehen dass die 
metrischen wie stilistischen Eigenthtimlicheiten sich gleichmftssig auf 
das ganze Gedicht erstrecken und es diirchaus als aus einem Guts 
gearbeitet erscheinen lassen. Wenn also diese Charscterztlge einer 
spateren Periode, aus einer zweiten " Textesrecension '' entsprungen 
sein soUten, so milsste man annehmen, dass der Dichter mit Absicht 
von Anfang bis zu Ende seinen klaren Ausdruck angedunkelt, den 
einfachen Satzbau verwickelt und die regelmassigen und glatten Verse 
anomal und holprig gemacbt habe. Dies kann Niemand aimehmen." 
Mr Fleay accepts, and Hertzberg rejects, the opinion that All's Well 
is the play (in an earlier form) mentioned by Meres as " Love's Labour's 
Won. " Hertzberg contends that Love's Labour's Won was the Taming 
of the Shrew. Kreyssig connects All's Well, — the subdual of husband 
by wife, — with the Shrew,— ^the subdual of wife by husband. 

86 Shakspere — His Mind and Art 

tractive or admirable. Yet Helena has been named by 
Coleridge " the loveliest of Shakspere's characters." Pos- 
sibly Coleridge recognised in Helena the single quality 
which, if brought to bear upon himself by one to whom 
he yielded love and worship, would have given definite- ■ 
ness and energy to his somewhat vague and incoherent 
life. For sake of this one thing Shakspere was in- 
terested in the story, and so admirable did it seem to 
him, that he could not choose but endeavour to make 
beautiful and noble the entire character and action of 
Helena. This one thing is the energy, the leap-up, 
the direct advance of the wVil of Helena, her prompt, 
unerroneous tendency towards the right and efficient 
deed. She does not display herself through her words ; 
she does not, except on rarest occasions, allow her feel- 
ings to expand and deploy themselves ; her entire force 
of character is concentrated in what she does. And there- 
fore we see her quite as much indirectly, through the 
eflfect which she has produced upon other persons of the 
drama, as through self-confession or immediate presenta- 
tion of her character. 

A motto for the play may be found in the words 
uttered with pious astonishment by the clown, when his 
mistress bids him to begone, " That man should be at 
woman's command and yet no hurt done." Helena is the 
providence of the play ; and there is " no hurt done," 
but rather healing — healing of the body of the French 
King, healing of the spirit of the man she loves.* For 

* « Nicht nnr am Ednige, Bondem anch an Bertram ToUbringt sie 
eine gltlckliche Heilung." Professor Karl Else. Shakespeare Jahr- 
buch, vol. vii., p. 222. 

Growth of Skakspere's Mind and Art. 87 

Bertram when the stoiy begins, though endowed with 
beauty and bravery and the advantages (and disadvan- 
tages), of rank, is in character, in heart, in will, a crude 
ungracious boy. Helena loves him, and sets him, in her 
love, above herself, the poor physician's daughter, out of 

her sphere : 

'Twere all one 
That I should love a bright, particular star, 
And think to wed it, he is so above me. 

She loves him thus, but (and such a condition of heart 
must be admitted as possible) she does not wholly like 
him. She admits to herself that in worship of Bertram 
there is a certain fatuousness, — 

Now he^s gone^ and my idolatrous fancy 
Must sanctify his reHques. 

She sees from the first that the friend of his choice, the 
French captain, is " a notorious liar," " solely a coward," 
" a great way fool ; " she trembles for what Bertram may 
learn at the court 

God send him well t 
The court's a learning place ; and he is one — 
Parol What one i' faith ? 
Hel That I wish well 

Yet she sees in Bertram a potential nobleness, waiting 
to be evoked. And her will leaps forward to help him. 
Now she loves him, — Cloves him with devotion which 
comes from a consciousness that she can confer much ; 
and she will form him so that one day she shall like 
him also. 

Hel Tis pity. 

Parol What's pity ? 

HeL That wibhiug well had not a body in*t, 

88 Skakspere — His Mind and Art. 

Which might be felt ; that we, the poorer bom, 
Whose baser stars do shut us up in wishes, 
Might with effects of them follow our friends, 
And shew what we alone must think. 

But the " wishing well " of such a woman as Helena 
has indeed a sensible and apprehensible body in it. 
With a sacred boldness she assumes a command over 
Bertram's fate and her own. She cannot believe in the 
piety of resignation, or passiveness, in the religious duty 
of letting things drift ; rather, she finds in the love 
which prompts her a true mandate from above, and a 
veritable providential power : — 

Our remedies oft in ourselTea do lie 
Which we ascribe to heaven : the fated sky 
Gives us free scope, only doth backward pull 
Our slow designs when we ourselves are dull. 
What power is it that mounts my love so high ? 

Helena goes forth, encouraged by her mistress, the 
mother of the man she seeks to vrin ; goes forth to gain 
her husband, to allay her own need of service to him, to 
impose herself on Bertram as the blessing that he 
requires. All this Helena does openly, with perfect 
courage. She does not conceal her love from the 
Countess ; she does not for a moment dream of stealing 
after Bertram in man's attira It is the most impulsively 
or the most delicately, and exquisitely feminine of 
Shakspere's women whom he delights to disguise in the 
" garnish of a boy," — Julia with her hair knit up " in 
twenty odd-conceited true-love knots," Rosalind, the 
gallant curtle-axe upon her thigh, Viola, the sweet-voiced 
in whom '' all is semblative a woman's part/' Jessica, for 
whose transformation Cupid himself would blush, Portia 

Growth of Shakspere^s Mind and Art. 89 ' 

the wise young judge, so poignantly feminine in her 
gifts of intellect and heart, Imogen, who steps into the 
cavern's mouth with the advanced sword in a slender 
and trembling hand. In Helena there is so much 
solidity and strength of character that we feel she would 
be enfeebled by any male disguise which might compli- 
cate the impression produced by her plain womanhood. 
There could be no charm in presenting as a pretender 
to male courage one who was actually courageous as a 

But throughout, while Helena is abundantly courage- 
ous, Shakspere intends that she shall at no moment 
appear unwomanly. In offering herself to Bertram, she 
first discloses her real feeling by words addressed to one 
of the young lords, from among whom it is granted her 
to choose a husband : — 

Be not afraid that I your hand should take ; 
rU never do you wrong for your own sake. 

Only with Bertram she would venture on the bold 
experiment of wronging him for his own sake. The 
experiment, indeed, does not at first seem to succeed. 
Helena is wedded to Bertram; she has laid her will 
without reserve in her husband's hands ; she had desired 
to surrender all to him, for his good, and she has 
surrendered all. But Bertram does not find this provi- 
dential superintendence of his affairs of the heart, 
altogether to his taste ; and in company with Parolles 
he flies from his wife's presence to the Italian war. 
Upon reading the concise and cruel letter in which 
Bertram has declared the finality of his separation from 

90 Shakspere — His Mind and Art 

her, Helena does not faint, nor does she break forth into 
bitter lamentation. " This is a dreadful sentence," "'Tis 
bitter," — thus, pruning her words, Helena controls *' the 
thoughts which swell and throng " over her, until they 
condense themselves into one strong purpose. She will 
leave her mother, leave her home, and when she is gone 
and forgotten Bertram will return from hardship and 
danger. But she would fain see him, and if anything 
can still be done, she will do that thing. 

The mode by which Helena succeeds in accomplishing 
the conditions upon which Bertram has promised to ac- 
knowledge her as his wife, seems indeed hardly to possess 
any moral force, any validity for the heart or the con- 
science. It can only be said in explanation, that to Helena 
an infinite virtue and significance resides in a (feed; out of 
a word or out of a feeling she does not hope for measure- 
less good to come ; but out of a deed what may not come ? 
That Bertram should actually have received her as his 
wife, actually, though unwittingly, that he should indeed 
be father of the child she bears him ; these are facts, 
accomplished things, which must work out some real 
advantage. And now Bertram has learnt his need of 
self-distrust, perhaps has learnt true modesty. His 
friend (who was all vain words apart from deeds), has 
been unmasked, and pitilessly exposed. May not Bertram 
now be capable of estimating the worth of things and of 
persons more justly ? Helena, in taking the place of 
Diana, in beguiling her husband into at least material 
virtue, is still " doing him wrong, for his own sake." 
The man is " at woman's command," and there is " no 
hurt done." 

Growth of Shakspere^s Mind and Art. 91 

Even at the last Bertram's attainment is but small ; 
he is still no more than a potential piece of worthy ' 
manhood. We cannot suppose that Shakspere has 
represented him thus without a purpose. Does not the 
poet wish us to feel that although much remains to 
be wrought in Bertram, his welfare is now assured ? 
The courageous title of the play " All's well that ends 
well," is like an utterance of the heart of Helena, who 
has strength and endurance to attain the end, and who 
will measure things, not by the pains and trials of the 
way, not by the dubious and difficult means, but by that 
end, by the accomplished issue. We need not, therefore, 
concern ourselves any longer about Bertram ; he is safe 
in the hands of Helena ; she will fashion him as he 
should be fashioned ; Bertram is at length delivered from 
the snares and delusions which beset his years of haughty 
ignorance and dulness of the heart ; he is doubly won ^ 
by Helena ; therefore he cannot wander far, therefore he 
cannot finally be lost.* 

The changes of type which took place in the promi- 
nent female characters of Shakspere's plays as the poet 
passed from youth to manhood, and from early manhood 
to riper maturity, would form an interesting subject for . 
detailed study. The emotional women of the early plays, 
if not turbulent and aggressive, are still deficient in deli* 
cacy of heart, in refinement of instinct, impulse, and 

* On this play consult Professor Karl Else's article in Shakespeare 
Jahrbnch, vol. vii., and preface by Hertzberg in the German Shakspere 
Society's edition of Schlegel's and Tieck's Translation of Shakspere, 
ToL zi. Hertzberg maintains that love of Lafeu's daughter is a motive 
of Bertram's rejection of Helena. But see Elze's reply in the above 
mentioned article, p. 226. 


9 2 Shakspere — His Mind and Art 

habit. The intellectual womeD, who stand by the side 
of these, are bright and clever, but over-confident, for- 
ward, or defiant. In the early historical plays appear 
terrible female forms, — women whose ambitions have 
been foiled, whose hearts have been torn and crushed, 
who are fiUed with fierce sorrow, passionate indignation, 
a thirst for revenge. Such are the Duchess of Gloster, 
Margaret of Anjou, Queen Elinor, Constance. As comedy 
succeeds comedy the female characters become more 
complex, more subtile, more exquisite. Eosaline's flout- 
ling of Berowne, becomes Rosalind's arch mockery of 
Orlando, or the sportive contests of Beatrice with Bene- 
dict. In Portia of " The Merchant of Venice '* intellect and 
emotions play into one another with exquisite swiftness, 
brightness, and vital warmth. 

Just at the close of the period which gave birth 
to Shakspere's most joyous comedies, and at the 
entrance to the tragic period, appear types of 
female character which are distinguished by some 
single element of peculiar strength, Helena, Isabella, 
Portia of Julius Caesar (type of perfect womanly 
heroism, yet environed by the weakness of her sex) ; 
and over against these are studies of feminine inca- 
pacity or ignobleness — Ophelia, Gertrude, Cressida. It is 
as if Shakspere at this time needed some one strong, out- 
standing excellence to grasp and steady himself by,- and 
had lost his delight in the even harmony of character 
which suits us, and brings us joy when we make no 
single, urgent, and peculiar demand for help. Next fol- 
low the tragic figures — Desdemona, the invincible loyalty 

Growth of Shakspere's Mind and Art. 93 . 

of wifehood ; Cordelia, the invincible filial loyalty ; sac- 
rificial lives, which are offered up, and which sanctify 
the earth, lives which fall in the strife with evil, and 
which falling achieve their victories of love. And as 
these make the world beautiful and sacred, even while 
they leave it strange and sorrowful, so over against them 
appear the destroyers of life — ^Lady Macbeth, and the 
monsters Qoneril, R^an. 

Finally, in Shakspere's latest plays appear upon 
the one hand the figures of the great sufferers — 
calm, self-possessed, much enduring, firee firom self- 
partiality, unjust resentment, and the passion of 
revenge — Queen Katharine, Hermione ; and on the 
other hand are exquisite girlish figures, children who 
have known no sorrow, over whom is shed a magical 
beauty, an ideal light, while above them Shakspere is 
seen, as it were, bowing tenderly — Miranda, Perdita. 
How great a distance has been traversed I Instead of 
the terrible Margaret of Anjou we have here Queen 
Katharine. Shakspere in his early period would have 
found cold, and without suitability for the purposes of 
art, Katharine's patience, reserve, and equilibrium of soul. 
Instead of Rosaline here is Perdita. A death-bed glori- 
ous with a vision of angels, and the exquisite dawn of a 
young girl's life, these are the two last themes on which 
the imagination of the poet cared to dwell affectionately 
and long. 

Here for the present we may pause. We have glanced 
at the growth of Shakspere's mind and art as far onward 
as the opening of the period of the great tragedies. What 

94 Shakspere — His Mind and A rt, 

Shakspere gained of insight and of strength during that 
period a subsequent chapter will attempt to tell.* 

* I am nnwilling to offer any criticism of the play of TroyluB and 
Creesida until I see my way more clearly through certain difficulties 
respecting its date and its ethical significance. Mr Fleay believes that 
three stories can be distinguished — (1.) 'J'roylus and Cressida; (2.) 
Hector; (3.) Ajax, Ulysses, and the Greek Camp; and that these 
stories were written at different periods. (See Transactions of the 
New Shakspere Society.) Mr Fumivall says— "that there are two 
parts, an early and a late, I do not doubt.*' Hertzberg assigns the 
date 1603. See his valuable Preface in the German Shakespeare 
Society's edition of Tieck's and Schlegel's Translation of Shakspere, 
vol. XL, and on the sources of the p]ay his article in Shakespeare Jahr- 
buch, vol. vi. ; also in vol. iii the article by Karl Eitner. Hertzberg 
believes that the play remained unprinted and unacted until 1609. 
Ulrici's article on Troilus and Cressida in Shakespeare Jahrbuch, vol. 
ix., makes it dear that the play belongs rather to comedy than tragedy. 
This article may be consulted (as well as Hertzberg's preface) on the 
questions raised by the concluding lines of the difficult epilogue by 



During the first ten years of Shakspere's dramatic 
career he wrote quickly, producing (if we suppose that 
he commenced authorship in 1590 at the age of twenty- 
six), on an average, about two plays in each year. Thepe 
eighteen or twenty plays written between 1690 and 
1600, include some eight or nine comedies, and the 
whole of the great series of English historical dramas, 
which, when Henry V. was written, Shakspere probably, 
looked upon as complete. To this field he did not 
return, except in one instance when it would seem that 
a portion of a play on the subject of Henry VIII. was 
written, and while still incomplete was handed over on 
some special occasion to the dramatist Fletcher to 
expand from three acts into five. In the first decade 
of Shakspere's authorship (if we set aside Titus Androni- 
cus as the work of an unknown writer), a single tragedy 
appears, — Romeo and Juliet., This play is believed to 
have engaged Shakspere's attention during a number of 
years* Dissatisfied probably with the first form which 
it assumed, Shakspere worked upon the play again, 
rewriting and enlarging it.* But it is not unlikely that 

* The opinion of Mr Bichard Grant White deserves to be stated. 
It is "That the Borneo and Juliet which has come down to iis (for 

96 Skakspere — His Mhid and Art, 

even then he considered his powers to be insufficiently 
matured ibr the great dealing as artist with human life 
and passion, which tragedy demands ; for, having written 
Romeo and Juliet, Shakspere returned to the histories, 
in which, doubtless, he was aware that he was receiving 
the best possible culture for future tragedy ; and he 
wrote the little group of comedies in which Shaksperian 
mirth obtains its highest and most complete expression. 
Then, after an interval of about five years, a second 
tragedy, Hamlet, was produced Over Hamlet as over 
Romeo and Juliet, it is supposed that Shakspere 
laboured long and carefully. Like Romeo and Juliet 
the play exists in two forms, and there is reason to 
believe that in the earlier form in each instance we 
possess an imperfect report of Shakspere's first treatment 
of his theme.* 

It may be thought paradoxical to infer from the 
absence of tragedy in the earlier years of Shakspere's 
dramatic career, that he looked upon the writing 

there msy have been an antecedent play upon the same story), was 
first written [in 1591], by two or more playwrights, of whom Shakspere 
was one ; that subsequently [in 1596], Shakspere re-wrote this old 
play, of which he was part author, making his principal changes in 
the passages which were contributed by his co-labourers." Mr R. G. 
White believes the first quarto of Romeo and Juliet to be an imperfect 
and garbled copy, obtained by the aid of a reporter, of Shakspere's 
new work, the defects of which were supplied partly by some verse- 
mongers of the day, and partly from the old play in the oomposition of 
which Shakspere was one of two or more co-labourers. 

* The editors of the Cambridge Shakspere believe that there was 
an old play on the subject of Uamlet, ''some portions of which are still 
preserved in the quarto of 1603." For various bits of evidence (some 
good, some bad), to prove that the text of this quarto was obtained 
orally, and not directly from a manuscript, see Tschischwitz's 
*'Shakspere-Forschungen L Hamlet," pp. 10-14. 

Romeo and Juliet 97 

of tragedy as his chief vocation as author; yet the 
inference is not unconfirmed by facts in Shakspere's 
subsequent career. Ahnost fix)m the first it would 
appear that he had before him the design of Romeo and 
Juliet When after five or six years it was actually 
accomplished, there still appeared in the play unmistak- 
able marks of immature judgment. Shakspere a<scord- 
ingly, who in his histories had abundance of work planned 
out for him, wisely abstained for some time further from 
writing tragedy. But as soon as Hamlet was com- 
pleted, and it became a demonstrated fact to the poet 
that he had attained his full maturity, and was master 
of his craft, then he no longer hesitated or delayed, and 
year by year from 1602 to 1612 he added to the great 
roll of his tragedies, accomplishing in those years by 
sustained energy of heart and imagination as marvellous 
a feat of authorship as the world has seen. 

When Shakspere began to write for the stage, as waa 
noticed in the preceding chapter, he was by no means 
misled by self-confidence. He began cautiously and 
tentatively, feeling his way. And there was one cause 
which might reajsonably make him timid in the direction 
of tragedy. Shakspere, at the age of twenty-six, was 
not afraid to compete with contemporary writers in 
comedy and history. He co-operated in the writing of 
historical plays, " The First Part of the Contention/' 
and " The True Tragedie of Richard Duke of Yorke," 
at an early age, and afterwards by revision and addi- 
tion made these plays still more his own.* But the 

* Mr Byce was of opinion tbat these plays are works by Marlowe ; 
but the passages somewhat in Marlowe's manner in " The Conteution,'' 


9 8 Shakspere — His Mind and A rt. 

department of tragedy was dominated by a writer of 
superb genius, Christopher Marlowe. Shakspere, whose 
powers ripened slowly, may at the time when he wrote 
** The Comedy of Errors," and " Love's Labour's Lost," 
have well hesitated to dispute with Marlowe his special 
province. Imitators and disciples had crowded around 
the master. All the vices of his style had been ex- 
aggerated. Shakspere saw one thing clearly, that if 
the time ever came when he would write tragedy, the 
tragedy must be of a kind altogether different from 
that created upon Marlowe's method, — the method of 
idealising passions on a gigantic scala To add to the 
pieces of the school of Marlowe a rhapsody of blood 
commingled with nonsense was impossible for Shakspere, 
who was never altogether wanting in a sane judgment, 
and a lively sense of the absurd. 

Thus it came about that Shakspere at nearly forty 
years of age was the author of but two tragedies. Of 
these, Romeo and Juliet may be looked upon as the 
work of the artist's adolescence ; and Ha.mlet as the 
evidence that he had become adult, and in this supreme 
department master of his craft To add to the interest 
of these plays as subjects of Shaksperian study, each, as 
was observed above, exists in two very different forms ; 
and from these something may be learnt as to the poet's 
method of rehandling his own work. In the case of 
Romeo and Juliet, we possess the English original, a 

and "True Tragedie," are like Marlowe deprived of hia genius. 
Eliminate the Shakspere portions of these old plays, and the work 
remains more like that of an admirer of Marlowe than of that great 
poet himi^elf . 

Romeo and Juliet. 99 

poem by Arthur Brooke, upon which Shakspere founded 
his drama, and which in many particulars he minutely 
followed. It is therefore possible in the case of this 
play, to investigate with peculiar advantage Shakspere*s 
method of treating his original 

These first two tragedies having been so carefully and 
deliberately thought out, having been looked upon by 
their author as of chief importance among his writings, 
we might anticipate that the second could hardly have 
been written without conscious reference to the first. 
In his early tentative plays Shakspere made trial of 
various styles ; he broke out now on this side, now on 
that, in directions which were wide apart ; now he was 
engaged upon a history, now upon a comedy of incident, 
almost a farce ; now a comedy of dialogue ; and again 
a comedy of tender and graceful sentiment. He 
evidently had resolved that he would not repeat himself, 
that he would not allow his invention to come under 
control of any one of its own creatures. Too often a 
distinguished literary success is the prelude to literary 
failure. The artist in fainter colours, and with a more 
uncertain outline repeats his admired figures and situa- 
tions. Shakspere instinctively and by resolve put 
himself into relation with fects of the most diverse 
kinds, and preferred a comparatively slow attainment of 
a comprehension of life to a narrow intensity of 
individuality. The broad history of the nation interested 
him ; but also, the passion of love and death in two 
young hearts ; he could laugh brightly, and mock the 
affectations and fashionable follies of his day ; but he 
must also stand before the tomb of the Capulets 

I oo Shakspere — His Mind and A rt. 

possessed by a sense of mystery, and that strenuous 
pain, in which something else than mere sorrow is 

Now when writing Hamlet, his second tragedy, 
Shakspere, we must needs believe, determined that he 
would break away from the influence of his first tragedy, 
Romeo and Juliet Romeo and Juliet is steeped in 
passion ; Hamlet is steeped in meditation. Contrast 
the hero of the one play, the man of the South, with 
the chief figure of the other, the Teuton, the man of the 
North. Contrast Hamlet's friend and comforter, Horatio, 
possessed of grave strength, self-government, and balance 
of character, with Romeo's friend, Mercutio, all brilli- 
ance, intellect, wit, and eflfervescent animal spirits. Con- 
trast the gay festival in Capulet's house with the brutal 
drinking of the Danish king and courtiers. Contrast 
the moonlit night in the garden, while the nightingale's 
song is panting forth from the pomegranate tree, with 
the silence, the nipping and eager air of the platform of 
Elsinore, the beetling height to seaward, and the form of 
terror which stalked before the sentinels. Contrast the 
perfect love of Juliet and her Romeo, with the piteous 
foiled desire for love in Hamlet and Ophelia Contrast 
the passionate seizure upon death, as her immediate and 
highest need, of the Italian wife, with the misadventure 
of the crazed Ophelia, so pitiful, so accidental, so 
un-heroic, ending in " muddy death." Yet, with all 
their points of contrast, there is one central point of 
affinity between the plays. Like Mr Browning's Para- 
celsus and his Sordello the poems are companion poems, 
while they are set over one against the other ; they 

Romeo and Juliet. i o i 

are contrasted but complementary.* Hamlet resembles 
Romeo in his inability to maintain the will in a fruitful 
relation with facts, and with the real world. Neither is 
a ruler of events. Luck is for ever against Romeo ; the 
stars are inauspicious to him, and to such men the stars 
will always be inauspicious, as to a Henry V. they will 
always prove auxiliary. With Hamlet to resolve is to 
stand at gaze before an action, and to become in- 
capable of achieving it The necessary coupling be- 
tween the purpose and the deed has been fatally dis- 
solved. There is this central point in common between 
Hamlet and Romeo — ^the will in each is sapped ; but in 
each it is sapped by a totally different disease of 

The external atmosphere of the tragedy of Romeo 
and Juliet, its Italian colour and warmth, have been so 
finely felt by M. Philar^to Chasles that his words deserve 
to be a portion of every criticism of that play, — ** Who 
does not recall those lovely summer nights, in which the 
forces of nature seem eager for development, and con- 
strained to remain in drowsy languor — a mingling of 
intense heat, superabundant energy, impetuous power, 
and silent freshness ? 

'' The nightingale sings in the depths of the woods. 
The flower-cups are half closed. A pale lustre is shed 

* See the writer's lecture on the poetry of Mr Tennyion and Mr 
Browning a Afternoon Leotores, vol. v. p. 178. 

t " Borneo i a Hamlet in lovau There is the uune rich exuberance of 
passion and sentiment in the one, that there is of thought and senti- 
ment in the other. Both are absent and self-involved ; both live oat 
of themselves in a world of imagination." — ^Haslitt: Characters of 
Shakespeare's Plays, p. 147 (ed. 1818). 

1 02 Shakspei'c — His Mind and A rL 

over tlie foliage of the forests, and upon the brow of the 
liills. The deep repose conceals, we are aware, a pro- 
creant force ; the melancholy reserve of nature is the 
mask of a passionate emotion. Under the paleness and 
the coolness of the night you divine restrained ardours, 
and flowers which brood in silence, impatient to shine 

" Such is the peculiar atmosphere with which Shaks- 
pere has enveloped one of his most wonderful creations 
— Romeo and Juliet. 

" Not only the substance, but the forms of the lan- 
guage come from the South. Italy was the inventor of 
the tale : she drew it from her national memorials, her 
old family-feuds, her annals filled with amorous and 
bloody intrigues. In its lyric accent, its blindness of 
passion, its blossoming and abundant vitality, in the 
brilliant imagery, in the bold composition, no one can 
fail to recognise Italy, Romeo utters himself like a 
sonnet of Petrarch, with the same refined choice, and the 
same antitheses ; there is the same grace and the same 
pleasure in versifying passion in allegorical stanzas. 
Juliet, too, is wholly the woman of Italy; with small 
gift of forethought, and absolutely ingenuous in her 
iibandon, she is at once vehement and pure."* 

The season is midsummer. It wants a fortnight 
and odd days of Lammastide (August 1st). Wilhelm 
Schlegel, and after him Uazlitt, have spoken as if the 
atmosphere of the play were that of a southern spring. + 
Such a criticism indicates a want of sensibility to the 

* Etudes sur W. Shakspeare, Marie Stuart, et L'Ardtin, pp. 141-42. 
t So also FLathe: Shokspearo, &c. Part ii., p. 188. 

Romeo and Juliet. 103 

tone and colouring of the piece. The mid-July heat 
broods over the five tragic days of the story. The mad 
blood is stirring in men's veins during these hot summer 
days.* There is a thunderous feeling in the moral ele- 
ment. The summer was needed also that the nights 
and mornings might quickly meet. The nights are 
those luminous nights from which the daylight seems 
never wholly to depart, nights through which the warmth 
of day still hangs over the trees and flowers. 

It is worth while to pause and note Shakspere's 
method of treating external nature as the miMeu or 
enveloping medium of human passion ; while sometimes, 
in addition, between external nature and human passion 
Shakspere reveals acute points of special contact. We 
recall in King Lear the long and terrible day which 
begins at moonset before the dawn, when Kent is put 
in the stocks, and which ends with the storm upon the 
heath. The agony is intensified by the stretch of time, 
strained with passion and events, until the time tingles 
and is intense; it culminates in the night of furious 
wind and spouting rain, of lightning and of thunder, 
when the roots of nature seem shaken in the same up- 
heaval of things which makes a daughter cruel. We 
remember how Duncan breathed a delicate air when he 
entered under the martlet-haunted portals of Macbeth, 
as though nature insinuated into Duncan's senses a trea- 
cherous presentiment of peace and security ; and there 
followed upon this the night when the earth was fever- 

* BenvoUo, — "For now these hot days is the mad blood sturing." 
See the extract from Dr Theodor Str&ter in H. H. Fomess's Variorum 
edition of Romeo and Juliet, pp. 461 -62. 

1 04 Shakspere — His Mind and A rt 

ous and the air was filled with lamentings and strange 
screams of death. We remember that other night of tem- 
pest and prodigy which preceded the fall of Julius Csesar, 
when Cassius, catching exhilaration and energy from the 
mutiny in the heaven, walked about the streets unbraced, 
"submitting him unto the perilous night* Then in 
contrast with these we think of the lyric love of Lorenzo 
apd Jessica under the star-sown sky, every orb of which 
sings in its motion like an angel " still quiring to the 
young-eyed cherubins ;" we think of the Forest of Arden, 
with its tempered light and shade, its streams where the 
deer comes to drink, and green haimts in which adversity 
grows sweet ; we think of the mountain country of Wales, 
and the salutations to the heaven of the royal youths 
whom Cymbeline had lost. The air which surrounds 
the island of Prospero is one of enchantment fit to breathe 
upon marvel and beauty : — 

The isle is full of noises, 
Sounds and sweet airs that give delight and hurt not. 

In the play of Pericles we are for ever in presence of 
the waters furious or serene, and their voices of tumult 
or of calm are for ever mingling with the human voices, 
with the sorrow of the bereaved father, and the magical 
singing of the sea-pure and sea-sensitive Marina. Once 
again, in Timon we are in presence of the sea, — but it is 
not the stormy waters of Pericles that we gaze at ; it is 
not the yellow sands of Prosperous island, where the sea- 
nymphs dance, and curtsy, and take hands ; in Timon it 
is neither the strength nor the beauty of the waves we 
are made to feel : — 

Romeo and Juliet. 105 

Timon hath made his eyerlasting maosion 
Upon the beachdd verge of the ealt flood ; 
Who once a day with his embossed froth 
The turbulent surge shall cover. 

We see the cold white lip of the wave curling over, and 
curling over again, vith bitter monotony upon the sand ; 
and it is there, touched by the salt and pitiless edge of 
the sea, that the corpse of the desperate man must lie 

Romeo is not the determiner of events in the play. 
He does not stand prominently forward, a single figure 
in the first scene, as does Marlowe's Barrabas, and Shak- 
spere's Richard III., soliloquising about his own person 
and his plans. The first scene of the play prepares a 
place for Romeo, it presents the moral environment of 
the hero, it exhibits the feud of the houses which deter- 
mines the lovers* £ate, although they for a brief space 
forget these grim realities in the rapture of their joy. 
The strife of the houses Capulet and Montague appears 
in this first scene in its trivial, ludicrous aspect; threat- 
ening, however, in a moment to become earnest and 
formidable. The serving-men Gregory and Samson 
biting thumbs at the serving-men Abraham and Bal- 
thasar ; this is the obverse of the tragic show. Turn 
to the other side, and what do we see ? The dead bodies 
of young and beautiful human creatures, of Tybalt and 
Paris, of Juliet and Romeo, the bloody harvest of the 
strife. This first scene, half ludicrous but wholly grave, 
was written not without a reference to the final scene. 
The bandying of vulgar wit between the servants must 
not hide from us a certain grim irony which underlies 

1 o6 Shakspere — His Mind and Art. 

the opening of the play. Here the two old rivals meet; 
they will meet again. And the Prince appears in the 
last scene as in the first. Then old Capulet and Mon- 
tague will be pacified ; then they will consent to let 
their desolated lives decline to the grave in quietness. 
Meanwhile serving-men with a sense of personal dignity 
must bite their thumbs, and other incidents may 

Few critics of the play have omitted to call attention 
to the fact that Shakspere represents Romeo as already 
in love before he gives his heart to Juliet, in love 
with the pale-cheeked, dark-eyed, disdainful Rosaline. 
" If we are right,'* Coleridge wrote, "... in pronounc- 
ing this one of Shakspeare's early dramas, it affords a 
strong instance of the fineness of his insight into the 
nature of the passions, that Romeo is introduced already 
love-bewildered." The circumstance is hot of Shaks- 
pere's invention. He has retained it from Brookes 
poem; but that he thought fit to retain the circum- 
stance, fearlessly declaring that Romeo's supreme love is 
not his first love, is noteworthy. The contrast in the 
mind of the earlier poet between Rosaline, who 

From her youth was fostred evermore 
With vertues foode, and taught in schole of wisdomes skilf ull lore, 

and Juliet, who yields to her passion, and by it is 
destroyed, was a contrast which Shakspere rejected as a 
piece of formal and barren morality. Of what character 
is the love of Romeo for Rosaline ? Romeo's is not an 
active practical nature like Henry V. ; neither is he 
great by intellect, a thinker in any high sense of the 
word. But if he lives and moves and has his being 

Romeo and Juliet. 107 

neither heroically in the objective world of action, like 
Henry V., nor in the world of the mind like Hamlet, 
all the more he lives, onoves, and has his being in 
the world of mere emotion. To him emotion which 
enriches and exalts itself with the imagination, emo- 
tion apart from thought, and apart from action, 
is an end in itself. Therefore it delights him to 
hover over his own sentiment, to brood upon it, to 
feed upon it richly. Romeo must needs steep his whole 
nature in feeling, and, if Juliet does not appear, he must 
love Rosaline. 

Nevertheless the love of Rosaline cannot be to 
Romeo as is the love of Juliet. It is a law in moral 
dynamics, too little recognized, that the breadth, and 
height, and permanence of a feeling depend in a certain 
degree at least upon the actual force of its external 
cause. No ardour of self-projection, no abandonment 
prepense, no self-sustained energy can create and shape 
a passion of equal volume, and possessing a like certainty 
and directness of advance with a passion shaped, deter- 
mined, and for ever re-invigorated by positive, objective 
fact. Shakspere's capital discovery was this — ^that the 
facts of the world are worthy to command our highest 
ardour, our most resolute action, our most solemn awe ; 
and that the more we penetrate into fact the more will 
our nature be quickened, enriched, and exalted. The 
moral theme of the play of Romeo and Juliet is the 
deliverance of a man from dream into reality. In 
Romeo's love of Rosaline we find represented the dream- 
life as yet undisturbed, the abandonment to emotion for 
emotion's sake. Romeo nurses his love ; he sheds tears ; 

1 08 Shakspere — His Mind and A rL 

he cultivates solitude ; he utters his groans in the hear- 
ing of the comfortable friar ; he stimulates his fancy with 
the sought-out phrases, the curious antitheses of the 
amorous dialect of the period.* 

Why, then, brawling lore 1 loving hate ! 
anything, of nothing fint create ! 
heavy lightneBS ! Serious vanity ! 
Mis-shapen chaoe of well-Beeming forms ! 
Feather of lead, bright smoke, cold fire, sick health ! 

He broods upon the luxury of his sorrow. And then 
Romeo meets Juliet. Juliet is an actual force beyond 
and above himself, a veritable fact of the world. Never- 
theless there remains a certain clinging self-consciousness, 
an absence of perfect simplicity and directness even in 
Romeo's very real love of Juliet. This is placed by 
Shakspere in designed contrast with the singleness of 
Juliet's nature, her direct unerroneous passion which 
goes straight to its object, and never broods upon itself. 
It is Romeo who says in the garden scene, — 

How silyer-Bweet sound lovers' tongues by night, 
like softest music to attending ears. 

He has overheard the voice of Juliet, and he cannot 

answer her call imtil he has drained the sweetness of 

the sound. He is one of those men to whom the 

emotional atmosphere which is given out by the real 

object, and which surrounds it like a luminous mist, is 

more important than the reality itself. As he turns 

slowly away, loath to leave, Romeo exclaims, — 

Love goes toward love, as school-boys from their books, 
But love from love, toward achool with heavy looks. 

* Mrs Jameson has noticed that in *' All's Well that Ends Well " 
Helena mockingly reproduces this style of amorous antitheses (Act i. 
So. 1, U. 180-189). Helena, who lives so efiectively in the world of 
fact, is contemptuous towards all unreality and affectation. 

Romeo and Juliet. 109 

But Juliet's first thought is of the danger to which 
Romeo \& exposed in her father's grounds. It is Juliet 
who will not allow the utterance of any oath because the 
whole reality of that night's event, terrible in its joy, has 
flashed upon her^ and she, who lives in no golden haze 
of luxurious feeling, is aroused and alarmed by the 
sudden shock of too much happiness. It is Juliet who 
uses direct and simple words — 

Farewell oompliment ! 

Dost thou love me? I know thou wilt say " Ay/' 

And I will take thy word. 

She has declared that her bounty is measureless, that 

her love is infinite, when a sudden prosaic interruption 

occurs ; the nurse calls within, Juliet leaves the window, 

and Romeo is left alone. Is this new joy a dream ? 

blessed, blessed night ! I am afeard, 
Being in night, all this is bnt a dream, 
Too flattering-sweet to be substantial. 

But Juliet hastily reappears with words upon her lips 
which make it evident that it is no dream of joy in 
which she lives. 

Three words, dear Romeo, and good night indeed. 

If that thy bent of love be honourable. 

Thy purpose marriage, send me word to-morrow, 

By one that Til procure to come to thee. 

Where, and whal time thou wilt perform the rite, 

And all my fortunes at thy foot PU lay. 

And follow thee, my lord, throughout the world. 

The wholeness and crystalline purity of Juliet's 
passion is flawed by no double self. She \& all and 
entire in each act of her soul. While Romeo, on the 
contrary, is as yet but half delivered from self-con- 

I i o Shakspere — His Mind and Art. 

If Shakspere ventured upon any generalization about 
women, it was perhaps this — that the natures of women 
are usually made up of fewer elements than those of 
men, but that those elements are ordinarily in juster 
poise, more fully organized, more coherent and compact; 
and that, consequently, prompt and efficient action is 
more a woman's gift than a man's. '* Man delights 
not me, nor woman neither," confessed Hamlet ; and the 
courtiers declare they smiled to think if he delighted 
not in man, what lenten entertainment ilie players 
would receive from him. The players — for the drama 
is founded on mere delight in human personality. Man 
delighted Shakspere, and woman also ; but the chief 
problems of life seemed to lurk for Shakspere in the 
souls and in the lives of men, and therefore he was more 
profoundly interested in the natures of men than in those 
of women. His great tragedies are not Cordelia, 
Desdemona, Ophelia, Volumnia; but Lear, Othello, 
Hamlet, Coriolanus. Shaksp^re's men have a history, 
moral growth or moral decay ; his women act and are 
acted upon, but seldom grow and are transformed. We 
get from Shakspere no histories of a woman's soul like 
the history of Romola, or of Maggie Tulliver, or of 
Dorothea Brooke ; none — unless, perhaps, that of Cleo- 
patra — at all so carefully studied and curiously detailed 
as may be found in the novels of Goethe. Shakspere 
creates his women by a single strong or exquisite 
inspiration ; but he studies his men. His witty women 
are not a complex of all various qualities like Falstaff ; 
his wicked women are simply wicked like Goneril and 
Regan, not an inscrutable mystery of iniquity like lago ; 

Romeo and Juliet, 1 1 1 

his women of intellect are bright, are effective with 
ideas which they use as the means of action or of enjoy- 
ment, but among them there is not a female Hamlet.* 
Yet the women of Shakspere have almost always the 
advantage of his men. Although their natures are 
made up of fewer elements, yet because those elements 
are quite vital and coherent, his women are in the 
highest degree direct in feeling and efficient in action. 
All the half-organized power of men is not a match for 
their directness and efficiency. Portia in the Merchant 
of Venice can bring all her wits at a moment's notice 
into play; every faculty is instinct with a single and 
indivisible energy ; set over against the great masculine 
force of Shylock she proves more than a match for him. 
In Helena (All's Well that Ends Well) there is perfect 
rectitude of intellect and will, and a solid unity of 
character which enables her to shape events as she has 
decided it is well they should be shaped, and secures her 
from all distraction and all illusion. She imposes her- 
self as a blessing upon the high-bom youth, who, for his 
part, had been sufficiently blind and dull ; at length he 

* See on thia subject Mrs Jameson's Characteristics of Women, 
Introduction ; also a remarkable passage in Mr Ruskin's Sesame and 
Lilies, pp. 126-31. BUmelin maintains . that in consequence of his 
position as player, Shakspere was excluded from the acquaintance of 
women of fine culture and character, and therefore drew upon his 
fancy for his female portraits. At the same time Shakspere shared 
with Ooethe, Petrarch, llaphael, Dante, Rousseau, Jean Paul (a strange 
assemblage!) a mystical veneration for the feminine element of 
humanity as the higher and more divine. For a comparison of Shak- 
spere with Goethe in this respect, see Rtimelin Shakespeare Studieu 
pp. 288-292. It is clever and superficial, like much of the '* realistic 
criticism" of Rttmelin. Leo*s "Shakespeare's Franen-Ideale " is a 
somewhat misleading title. In the few pages on Shakspere's women 
(pp. 35-44), there is contained little that is new or valuable. 

1 1 2 Shakspere — His Mind and ArL 

perceives that while he stumbled and seemed to go 
astray, Helena was the providence which forced him to 
stumble into security, and strength, and the abiding- 
place of love. Volumnia, by the unfaltering insistence 
of her single moral motive subdues Coriolanus. Macbeth 
is brave and cowardly, sceptical and superstitious, loyal 
and treacherous, ambitious and capable of service, at 
once restrained and stimulated by his imagination. 
Lady Macbeth is terribly eflScient ; at one time a will 
strung tense, at another a conscience strung tense ; 
possessed of only that active kind of imagination which 
masters practical difficultiea She has violently wrenched 
her nature; and the wrench is £EbtaL But Macbeth 
can live on, sinking farther and ferther from reality and 
strength and joy, dropping away into the shadow, under- 
going gradual extinction, decay^ and disintegration of 
his moral being ; never a sudden and absolute ruin. 

Juliet at once takes the lead. It is she who pro- 
poses and urges on the sudden marriage. She is 
impatient for complete self-surrender, eager that the 
deed shoidd become perfect and irreversible. When, 
after the death of Tybalt, Romeo learns from the lips 
of the Friar that he has been condemned to banish- 
ment he is utterly unmanned. He abandons himself 
to helpless and hopeless despair. He turns the tender 
emotion upon himself, and extracts all the misery which 
is contained in that one word ** banished." He throws 
himself upon the ground and grovels pitifully in the 
abjectness of his dismay. His will is unable to deal 
with his own emotions so as to subdue or control them. 
Upon the next day, after her casting away of her own 

Romeo and Juliet 113 

kindred, after her parting with her hushand, Juliet 
comes to the same cell of Friar Laurence, her face pale 
and traces of tears upon it which «he cannot hide. 
Paris, the lover whom her father and mother have 
designed for Juliet, is there. She meets him with gay 
words, gallantly concealing the heart which is eager and 
trembling, and upheld from desperation only by a high- 
strung fortitude. Then when the door is shut her heart 
relieves itself, and she urges the Friar, with passionate 
energy, to devise forthwith a remedy for the evil that 
has befiEdlen. 

In her home Juliet is now without adviser or sus- 
tainer ; a girl of fourteen years, she stands the centre of 
a circle of power which is tyramious, and pledged to 
crush her resistance ; old Capulet (the Capulets are a 
fiery self-willed race, unlike the milder Montagues) has 
vehemently urged upon her the marriage with Count 
Paris. She turns her pale face upon her father, and 
addresses him appealingly.* 

Good father, I beseech yon on my knees 
Hear me with jMitience but to speak a word. 

She turns to her mother, — the proud Italian matron, 
still young, who had not married for love, whose hatred 
is cold and deadly, and whose relation with the child, 
who is dear to her, is pathetically imperfect :f 

* Shakflpere, as Mr Clark notices, contrives to bring before as the 
palenees of JuUeVs face in this great crisis of her life, dramatically, by 
means of old Capnlet's vituperative terms : — 

Out yon green-sickness carrion ! out yon baggage ! 
You tallow face ! 
t Shakspere reduces Juliet's age from the sixteen years of Brooke's 
poem to fourteen. He loved the years of budding womanhood — 


1 1 4 Slmkspere — His Mind and Art. 

Is there no pity sitting in the cloads, 
That sees into the bottom of my grief ? 
sweet my mother, cast me not away ! 
Delay this marriage for a month, a week. 

Last she looks for support to her Nurse, turning in 
that dreadful moment with the instinct of childhood to 
the woman on whose breast she had lain, and uttering 
words of desperate and simple earnestness : — 

God I nurse I how shall this be prevented? 

Some comfort, nmse. 

The same unfaltering severity with which a surgeon 
operates is shown by Shakspere in his fidelity here to 
the nurse's character. The gross and wanton heart, 
while the sun of prosperity is full, blossoms into broad 
vulgarity; and the raillery of Mercutio deals with it 
sufficiently. Now in the hour of trial her grossness 
rises to the dignity of a crime. " The Count is a 
lovely gentleman ; Romeo's a dishdout to him ; the 
second match excels the first ; or if it does not, Juliet's 
first is dead, or as good as dead, being away from her." 
" This moment," Mrs Jameson has finely said, " reveals 
Juliet to herself. She does not break into upbraidings ; 
it is no moment for anger ; it is incredulous amazement, 

Miranda is fifteen yean of age, Marina foarteen. Lady Capnlet says to 
Juliet : 

By my connt 
I was yonr mother mnch upon these years 
That you are now a maid. A<A L, SctiM 3. 
Therefore she is perhaps under thirty yean of age. But it is thirty 
yean since old Capulet last went masking {A<A L, Scent 6). Observe 
Lady Capulet^s manner of speech with her husband in Att iv., Bc«m 4, 
and note her announcement (intended to gratify Juliet) that she will 
despatch a messenger to Mantua to poison Bomeo. Act iii., Swmt 6. 

Romeo and Juliet 1 1 5 

succeeded by the extremity of scorn and abhorrence, 
which takes possession of her mind. She assumes at 
once and asserts all her own superiority, and rises to 
majesty in the strength of her despair." Here Juliet 
enters into her solitude.* 

The Friar has given Juliet a phial containing a 
strange, untried mixture, and she is alone in her 
chamber. Juliet's soliloquy ends with one of those 
triumphant touches by which Shakspere glorified that 
which he appropriated £rom his originals. In Brooke's 
poem, Juliet swallows the sleeping-potion hastily lest 
her courage should fail. '^ Shakspere," Coleridge 
wrote, "provides for the finest decencies. It would 
have been too bold a thing for a girl of fifteen ; — ^but 
she swallows the draught in a fit of fright.'' This 
deprives Juliet of all that is «i06t characteristic in the 
act. Tn the night and the solitude, with a desperate 
deed to do, her imagination is intensely and morbidly 
excited. All the hideous secrets of the tomb appear 
before her. Suddenly in her disordered vision the 
figure of the murdered Tybalt rises, and is manifestly 
in pursuit of some one. Of whom ? Not of Juliet, 
but of her lover who had slain him. A moment before 

* *' The niine has aoertain vnlgariaed air of rank and refinement^ as if 
priding herself on the confidence of her superiors, she had caught and 
asHimilated their manners to her oiKrn vulgar nature. In this mixture 
of refinement and yulgarity both elements are made the worse for 
being together. .... She abounds, however, in serriceable qualities." 
Hudson. Shakespeare's Life, Art and Characters, vol. ii., pp. 214-216. 
Mrs Jamesctn observes justly that the sweetness and dignity of Juliet's 
character could hardly have been preserved inviolate if Shakspere had 
placed her in connection with any common-place dramatic waiting- 

1 1 6 Shakspere — His Mind and Art. 

Juliet had shrunk with horror from the thought of 
confronting Tybalt in the vault of the Capulets. But 
now Romeo is in clanger. All fear deserts her. To 
stand by Romeo's side is her one necessity. With a 
confused sense that this draught will somehow plaoe 
her close to the murderous Tybalt, and close to Romeo 
whom she would save, calling aloud to Tybalt to delay 
one moment, — " Stay, Tybalt, stay ! " — ^she drains the 
phial, not "in a fit of fright," but with the words 
" Romeo ! I come ; this do I drink to thee." 

The brooding nature of Romeo, which cherishes 
emotion, and lives in it, is made salient by contrast 
with Mercutio, who is all wit, and mtellect, and vivacity, 
an uncontrollable play of gleaming and glancing life. 
Upon the morning after the betrothal with Juliet, a 
meeting happens between Romeo and Mercutio. 
Previously, while lover of Rosaline, Romeo had culti- 
vated a lover-like melancholy. But now, partly because 
his blood runs gladly, partly because the union of soul 
with Juliet has made the whole world more real and 
substantial, and things have grown too soUd and lasting 
to be disturbed by a laugh, Romeo can ccmtend in jest 
with Mercutio himself, and stretch his wit of cheveril 
" from an inch narrow to an ell broad." Mercutio and 
the nurse are Shakspere's creations in this play. For 
the character of the former he had but a slight hint in 
the poem of Arthur Brooke. There we read of Mercutio 
as a courtier who was bold among the bashful maidens 
as a lion among lambs, and we are told that he had an 
" ice-cold hand." Putting together these two sugges- 
tions, discovering a significance in them, and animating 

Romeo and Juliet. 1 1 7 

them with the breath of his own life, Shakspere created 
the brilliant figure which lights up the first half of 
Romeo and Juliet, and disappears when the colours 
become all too grave and sombre. 

Romeo has accepted the great bond of love. Jlercutio, 
with his ice-cold hand, the lion among maidens, chooses 
above all things a defiant liberty, defiant liberty of speech, 
gaily at war with the proprieties, an airy freedom of fancy, a 
careless and masterful courage in dealing with life, as 
though it were a matter of slight importance. He will 
not attach himself to either of the houses. He is invited 
by Capulet to the banquet ; but he goes to the banquet 
in company with Romeo and the Montagues. He can 
do generous and disinterested things ; but he will not 
submit to the trammels of being recognised as generous. 
He dies maintaining his freedom, and defying death 
with a jest. To be made worm's meat of 90 stupidly, 
by a villain that fights by the book of arithmetic, and 
through Romeo's awkwardness, is enough to make a 
man impatient. '' A plague o' both your houses ! " 
The death of Mercutio is like the removal of a shifting 
breadth of sunlight, which sparkles on the sea ; now the 
clouds close in upon one another, and the stress of the 
gale begins.* 

The moment that Romeo receives the false tidings of 
Juliet's death, is the moment of his assuming full man- 
hood Now, for the first time, he is completely delivered 
from the life of dream, completely adult, and able to act 

* The German Profeaaor BometimeB does not quite keep pace with 
Shakspera, and i« heaid stnmbling heavily behind him. Gervinug 
thus describes Mercutio : '' A man without culture, coarse and rude, 
ngly, a'scomful ridiculer of all sensibility and love.*' 

1 1 8* Sfiakspere — His Mind and Art 

with au initiative in his own will, and with manly deter- 
mination. Accordingly, he now speaks with masculine 
directness and energy : — 

Is it even bo ? Then I defy you, stars I 

Yes ; he is now master of events ; the stars cannot 
alter his course ; 

Thou know'st my lodgin'gs : get me ink and paper, 

And hire post-horses ; I will hence to-night« 
Bal, I do beseech you, sir, have patience. 

Your looks are pale and wild, and do import 

Some misadYenture. 
^m. Tosh ! thou art deceiy'd. 

Leave me, and do the thing I bid thee do. 

Hast thou no letters to me from the Friar? 
BaL No, my good lord. 
RoMi, No matter ; get thee gone, 

And hire those horses ; I'll be with thee straight. 

" Nothing," as Maginn has observed, " can be more 
quiet than his final determination. 

Well, Juliet, I will lie with thee to-night. 

It is plain Juliet There is nothing about 

' Cupid's arrow,' or ' Dian's wit ; ' no honeyed word 
escapes his lips, nor again does any accent of despair. 
His mind is so made up ; the whole course of the short 
remainder of his life so unalterably fixed that it is 
perfeictly useless to think more about it'! * These words 
because they are the simplest are amongst the most me- 
morable that Romeo utters. Is this indeed the same 
Romeo who sighed, and wept, and spoke sonnet-wise, 
and penned himself in his chamber, shutting the 
daylight out for love of Rosaline ? Now passion, 

* Shakespeare Papers, p. 99. 

Romeo and Juliet 1 1 9 

imagination, and will, are fused together, and Romeo 
who was weak has at length become strong. 

In two noteworthy particulars Shakspere has varied 
from his original He has compressed the action from 
some months into four or five days .♦ Thus precipitancy 
is added to the course of events and passions. Shak- 
spere has alBO made the catastrophe more calamitous 
than it is in Brooke's poem. It was his invention to 
bring Paris across Romeo in the church-yard. His 
design was not merely, as Mr R. Grant White has 
stated it, to gather together "all the threads of this 
love entanglement to be cut at once by Fate." Romeo 
now goes resolutely forward to death. He is no longer 
" young Romeo," but adult, and Paris is the boy. He 
speaks with the gentleness, and with the authority of 
one who knows what life and death are, of one who has 

* The following passage quoted by H. H. Fumess (yarionun Romeo 
and Juliet, pp. 226-27), from Mr Clarke may be serviceable as giving 
some of the notes of time which occur in this play. "In Scene I., . 
the Prince desires Capulet to go with him at once, and Montague to 
come to him, 'this afternoon.' In Scene IL, Capulet speaks of Mon- 
tague being * bound' as well as himself which indicates that the 
Prince's charge has just been given to both of them, and shortly after 
speaks of the festival at his house 'this night.' At this festival 
Romeo sees Juliet when she speaks of sending to him 'to-morrow,' 
and on that ' morrow ' the lovers are united by Friar Laurence. Act 
IIL opens with the scene where Tybalt kills Mercutio, and during 
which scene Romeo's words, 'Tybalt that an hour hath been my 
kinsman ' show that the then time is the afternoon of the same day. 
The Friar, at the close of Scene III. of that Act bids Romeo ' good 
night ;' and in the next scene, Paris, in reply to Capulet's inquiry, 
'What day is this?' replies, * Monday , my lord.' This, by the way, 
denotes that the ' old accustomed feast ' of the Capulets, according to 
a usual practice in Catholic countries, was celebrated on a Sunday 
evening. In Scene V. of Act III. comes the parting of the lovers at 
the dawn of Tuesday, and when at the close of the scene, Juliet says 
she shall impair to Friar Laurence' cell. Act IV. commences with her 

1 20 Skakspere — His Mind and Art 

gained the superior position of those who are about to 
die over those who still may live : 

Grood, gentle youth, tempt not a desperate man. 
Fly hence and leave me ; think upon these gone ; 
Let them a£Pright thee. I beseech thee, youth, 
Put not another sin upon my head, 
By urging me to fury. 

He would save Paris if that might be. But Paris 
still crosses Romeo, and he must needs be dealt with : 

Wilt thou provoke me ? then have at thee, boy ! 

Romeo has now a definite object ; he has a deed to do, 
and he will not brook obstacles.* 

Friar Laurence remains to furnish the Prince with an 
explanation of the events. It is impossible to agree 
with those critics, among others Qervinus, who represent 

appearance there, thus canying on the action during the Bame day, 
Tuesday. But the e£fect of long time is introduced by the mention of 
' evening Tnass,* and by the Friar^s detailed directions and reference to 
* to-morrow's night ; ' so that when the mind has been prepared by 
the change of scene, by Capulet's anxious preparations for the wedding, 
and by Juliet's return to filial submission, there seems no violence 
done to the imagination by Lady Capulet's remarking, < 'Tis now near 
night.' . . . Juliet retires to her own room with the intenti<m of 
selecting wedding attire for the next morning, which her father has 
said shall be that of the marriage, anticipating it by a whole day- 
Wednesday instead of Tharsday. '* The sleeping-potion is expected by 
the Friar to operate during two and forty hours. Act IV. Scene I. 
Juliet drinks it upon Tuesday night, or rather in the night hours of 
Wednesday morning— delayii^ as long as she dare. On the night of 
Thursday she awakens in the tomb and dies. Maginn believed that 
there must be some mistake in the reading " two and forty hours ; '* 
bat there is no need to suppose this. The play, as Maginn observes, 
is dated by Shakspere throughout with a most exact attention to 

* In the first quarto Benvolio dies. Montague, Act v. Scene 3 , 
announces the death of his wife, — the quarto adds the line, " And 
young Benvolio is deceased too." 

Romeo and Juliet 1 2 1 

the Friar as a kind of chorus expressing Shakspere's 
own ethical ideas/ and his opinions respecting the charac- 
ters and action. It is not Shakspere's practice to expound 
the moralities of his artistic creations ; nor does he ever 
by means of a chorus stand above and outside the men 
and women of his plays, who are bone of his bone and 
flesh of his flesh. The nearest approach perhaps to a 
chorus, is to be found in the person of Enobarbus in 
Antony and Cleopatra. Hamlet commissions Horatio 
to report him and his cause aright to the unsatisfied ; 
and Horatio placing the bodies of the dead upon a stage, 
is about, in judicial manner, to declare the causes of 
things ; but Shakspere declines to put on record for us 
the explanations made by Horatio. No ! Friar Laurence 
also is moving in the cloud, and misled by error cis well 
as the rest Shakspere has never made the moderate, 
self-possessed, sedate person, a final or absolute judge of 
the impulsive and the passionate ; the one sees 'a side 
of truth which is unseen by the other ; but to neither 
is the whole truth visible. The Friar had supposed that 
by virtue of his prudence, his moderation, his sage 
counsels, his amiable sophistries, he could guide these 
two young, passionate lives, and do away the old tradi- 
tion of enmity between the houses. There in the tomb 
of the Capulets is the return brought in by his invest- 
ment of kindly scheming. Shakspere did not believe 
that the highest wisdom of human life was acquirable 
by mild, monastic meditation, and by gathering of 
simples in the coolness of the dawn. Friar Laurence 
too, old man, had his lesson to learn. 

In accordance with his view that the Friar represents 

122 Shakspere — His Mind and Art, 

the chorus in this tragedy, Qervinus discovers as the 
leading idea of the piece a lesson of moderation ; the 
poet makes his confession that '' excess in any enjoy- 
ment, however pure in itself, transforms its sweet into 
bitterness, that devotion to any single feeling, however 
noble, bespeaks its ascendancy; that this ascendancy 
moves the man and woman out of their natural spheres."* 
It is somewhat hard upon Shakspere to suppose that he 
secreted in each of his dramas a central idea for a Ger- 
man critic to discover. But if there be a central idea in 
Romeo and Juliet can this be it ? What I did Shaks- 
pere then mean that Romeo and Juliet loved too well ? 
That all would have been better if they had surrendered 
their lives each to the other less rapturously, less abso- 
lutely ? At what precise point ought a discreet regard 
for another human soul to check itself and say, *' Thus 
far towards complete union will I advance, but here it is 
prudent to stop T' Or are not Romeo's words at least 
as true as the Friar's ? 

Gome what sorrow can, 
It cannot countervail the exchange of joy 
That one short minute gives me in her sight. 
Do thou but close our hands with holy words, 
Then love-devouring Death do what he dare, 
It is enough I may but call her mine. 

Doubtless, also, Cordelia misunderstood the true na- 
ture of the filial relation ; upon perceiving a possibility 
of defeat, she ought to have retreated to the safe coast 
of France. Portia upon hearing that the enemies of 
Brutus were making head, weakly "fell distract," and 

* Shakespeare Commentaries, by Gervinns, translated by F. £. Bon- 
nett. 1863. Vol i. p. 293. 

Romeo and Juliet. 1 2 3 

swallowed fire, not having learned that a well-balanced 
heart bestows upon a husband only a regulated modera- 
tion of love; Shakspere, by the example of Portia, 
would teach us that a penalty is paid for excess of wifely 
loyalty 1 No ; this method of judging characters and 
actions by gross awards of pleasure and pain as measured 
by the senses does not interpret the ethics or the art of 
Shakspere, or of any great poet. Shakspere was aware 
that every strong emotion which exalts and quickens the 
inner life of man at the same time exposes the outer 
life of accident and circumstance to increased risk. But 
the theme of tragedy, as conceived by the poet, is not 
material prosperity or failure ; it is spiritual ; fulfilment 
or failure of a destiny higher than that which is related 
to the art of getting on in life. To die under certain 
conditions may be a higher rapture than to live. 

Shakspere did not intend that the feeling evoked by 
the last scene of this tragedy of Romeo and Juliet should 
be one of hopeless sorrow or despair in presence of failure, 
ruin, and miserable collapse.* Juliet and Romeo, to whom 

* EreyBsig writes with reference to thia tragedy :— " Nicht sofUllig 
iBt die ideale, leidenschaftliche Jugendliebe in Sage nnd Gedicht aller 
VoUcer die Schwester dee Leidea. Sie hat ihren Lohn in sich selbet. 
Das Leben hat ihr Nichts weiter za bieten." — Shakesj^eare Fragen, p. 
120. In the Shakespeare Jahrbuch, yoL ix. p. 328, wiU be found a 
notioe of a study of Romeo and Juliet (Leipzio, 1874} by the celebrated 
author of the " Philosophie dee Unbewusaten," E. von Hartmann. He 
pronounces that the love between Juliet and Romeo is not the deep, 
spiritual, German ideal of love, but a sensuous play of passionate fancy. 
(Did not this latest leader of German thought previously teach that love 
at its best and truest is an illusion imposed upon the individual by the 
Unconsdons Somewhat which displays itself through nature and man, 
an iUusion which serves the important purpose of securing the continu- 
ance of the species ?) To such criticism the true answer was given 
long since by Frans Horn,—'* Shakspeare knows nothing, and chooses 

1 24 Shakspere — His Mind and Art, 

Verona has been a harsh step-mother, have accomplished 
their lives. They loved perfectly. Romeo had attained 
to manhood. Juliet had suddenly blossomed into heroic 
womanhood. Through her, and through anguish and 
joy, her lover had emerged from the life of dream into 
the waking life of truth. Juliet had saved his soul ; 
she had rescued him from abandonment to spurious feel- 
ing, from abandonment to morbid self-consciousness, and 
the enervating luxury of emotion for emotion's sake. 
What more was needed ? And as secondary to all this, 
the enmity of the houses is appeased ? Montague will 
raise in pure gold the statue of true and faithful Juliet ; 
Capulet will place Romeo by her side. * Their lives are 
accomplished ; they go to take up their place in the 
large history of the world, which contains many such 
things. Shakspere in this last scene carries forward our 
imagination from the horror of the tomb to the better 
life of man, when such love as that of Juliet and Romeo 
will be publicly honoured, and remembered by a memo- 
rial all gold.* 

to know nothing, of that false division of love into spiritual and sen- 
sual ; or rather, he knows of it only when he purposely takes notice of 
it, that is, when he wishes to depict affectation striving after a miscon- 
ceived platonism; or on the other hand, when he portrays a coarse, 
brutish, merely earthly passion." (Translated in Fnmess's Bomeo and 
Juliet, p. 446.) Contrast Juliet with Cressida; or Goethe's Mignon 
with Ms Philina. See Shakespeare Jahrbnch, vol. vii. p. 16 ; and Mrs 
Jameson's " Characteristics of Woman," especially the passage in which 
she comments upon Juliet's soliloquy, " Gallop apace." 

* Among the critics of this play, one of the most intelligently appre- 
ciative is George Fletcher in his Studies of Shakespeare, 1847. Flet- 
cher's interpretation of Juliet's soliloquy before she drinks the sleeping- 
potion differs from that given above ; and I will not assert that Fletcher 
may not be right, pp. 349-355. It may be worth while to add a note 
on the chief critical crux of the play, "Bunnawayes Eyes," Act iii. 

HamleL 125 


When Hamlet was written Sbakspei'e had passed 
through his years of apprenticeship, and become a 
master-dramatist. In point of style the play stands 
midway between his early and his latest works. The 
studious superintendence of the poet over the develop- 
ment of his thought and imaginings, very apparent in 
Shakspere's early writings, now conceals itself; but the 
action of imagination and thought has not yet become em- 
barrassing in its swiftness and multiplicity of direction.* 
Rapid dialogue in verse, admirable for its combination 
of verisimilitude with artistic metrical effects occurs in 
the scene in which Hamlet questions his Mends respect- 
ing the appearance of the ghost (act i. scene ii.) ; the 
soliloquies of Hamlet are excellent examples of the 
slow, dwelling verse which Shakspere appropriates to the 
utterance of thought in solitude ; and nowhere did 

Semt % I. 6. The notes on this paeaage in Sir Fnmees's edition of the 
play fill nearly thirty closely printed pages. " Die Zeit ist unendlich 
lang," said Ooethe. I add my stone to this cairn, nnder which the 
meaning lies buried. In the Merchant of Venice, ^c^ ii. Scene 6, there 
is an echo of the sense and of the language of this passage which con- 
firms the reading Runnatoayes, Gratiano and Salarino have spoken of 
the eagerness of lovers out-ronning time. This set Shakspere thinking 
of the passage in Bomeo and Juliet. Jessica, in her boy's disguise, 
says — 

Love is blind, and lovers cannot see 

The pretty follies that themselves commit. 

Lorenzo, — But come at once ; 

For the close night doth play the runavxiy. 
Compare the first ten lines of Juliet's soliloquy ; and observe the echo 
of sense and speech. 

* The characteristics of Shakspere's latest style are described by Mr 
Spedding in the foUowing masterly piece of critidsm : *' The opening 
of [Henry VIII.] . . . seemed to have the full stamp of Shakspere, 

126 Shakspere—His Mind and A rt 

Shakspere write a nobler piece of prose than the speech 
in which Hamlet describes to Rosencrantz and Quilden- 
stem his melancholy. But such particulars as these do 
not constitute the chief evidence which proves that the 
poet had now attained maturity. The mystery, the 
baffing, vital obscurity of the play, and in particular 
of the character of its chief person, make it evident 
that Shakspere had left far behind him that 
early stage of development when an artist obtrudes 
his intentions, or distrusting his own ability to 
keep sight of one uniform design, deliberately and 
with effort holds that design persistently before 
him. When Shakspere completed Hamlet he must 
have trusted himself and trusted his audience; he 
trusts himself to enter into relation with his subject, 
highly complex as that subject was, in a pure, emotional 
manner. Hamlet might so easily have been manufac- 
tured into an enigma, or a puzzle ; and then the puzzle, 
if sufficient pains were bestowed, could be completely 
taken to pieces and explained. But Shakspere created 
it a mystery, and therefore it is for ever suggestive ; for 
ever suggestive, and never wholly explicable. 

in his latest manner ; the same close-packed expression ; the same life, 
and reality, and freshness ; the same rapid and abmpt turnings of 
thought, so qnick that language can hardly follow fast enough ; the 
same impatient activity of intellect and fancy, which having once dis- 
closed an idea, cannot wait to work it orderly out ; the same daring 
confidence in the resources of language, which plunges headlong into a 
sentence without knowing how it is to come forth ; the same careless 
metre which disdains to produce its harmonious effects by the ordinary 
devices, yet is evidently subject to a master of harmony ; the same 
entire freedom from book-language and commonplace." — On the several 
shares of Shakspere and Fletcher in the play of Henry VIII., by James 
Spedding ; reprinted in Transactions of the New Shakspere Society from 
Th^ <jfenUeman*8 Magaaiiie for August 1850. 

Hamlet. 127 

It must not be supposed, then, that any iSjea, any m^c 
phrase will solve the difl&culties presented by the play, 
or suddenly illuminate everything in it which is obscure. 
The obscurity itself is a vital part of the work of art 
which deals not with a problem, but with a life ; and 
in that life, the history of a soul which moved through 
shadowy borderlands between the night and day, there 
is much (as in many a life that is real) to elude and 
baf&e enquiry. It is a remarkable circumstance that 
while the length of the play in the second quarto con- 
siderably exceeds its length in the earlier form of 1603, 
and thus materials for the interpretation of Shakspere's 
purpose in the play are offered in greater abundance, 
the obscurity does not diminish, but, on the contrary, 
deepens, and if some questions appear to be solved, 
other questions in greater number spring into existence. 
We may at once set aside as misdirected a certain 
class of Hamlet interpretations, those which would trans- 
form this tragedy of an individual life into a dramatic 
study of some general social phenomenon, or of some 
period in the history of civilization. A writer, who has 
applied an admirable genius for criticism, comprehen- 
sive and penetrative, to the study of this play,* describes 
it as Shakspere's artistic presentation of a phenomenon 
recurrent in the world with the regularity of a law of 
nature, the phenomenon of revolutions. Hamlet can- 
not escape from the world which surrounds him. In 
the wreck of a society, which is rotten to the core, he 
goes down ; with the accession of Fortinbras a new and 

* H. A. Werner. TJeber das Dnnkel in der Hamlet-Trag6die. 
Jahrbuch der Deutschen Shakespeare-OeBellsclutft, vol. v. pp. 37-81. 

1 2 8 Shakspere — His Mind aud Art 

sounder era opens. We must not allow any theory, 
however ingenious, to divert our attention from fixing 
itself on this fact, that Hamlet is the central point of 
the play of Hamlet. It is not the general cataclysm in 
which a decayed order of things is swept away to 
give place to new rough material ; it is not the 
down£a.ll of the Danish monarchy, and of a corrupt 
society, together with the accession of a new dynasty 
and of a hardier civilization that chiefly interested 
Shakspere. The vital heart of the tragedy of Hamlet 
cannot be an idea; neither can it be a fragment of 
political philosophy. Out of Shakspere^s profound 
sympathy with an individual soul and a personal life, 
the wonderful creation came into being. 

It is true, however, as the critic referred to 
maintains, that the weakness of Hamlet is not to be 
wholly set down to his own account. The world is 
against him. There is no such thing as naked man- 
hood. Shakspere, who felt so truly the significance of 
external nature as the environing medium of human 
passion, understood also that no man is independent of 
the social and moral conditions under which he lives 
and acts. Goethe in the celebrated criticism upon this 
play contained in his " Wilhelm Meister " has only 
offered a half interpretation of its difficulties ; and sub- 
sequent criticism, under the influence of Qoethe, has 
exhibited a tendency too exclusively subjective. ** To 
me," wrote Qoethe, "it is clear that Shakspere meant . . . 
to represent the effects of a great action laid upon a 
soul unfit for the performance of it. In this view the 
whole piece seems to me composed. There is an oak 

Hamlet. 129 

tree planted in a costly jar, which should have borne 
pleasant flowers in its bosom : the roots expand, the jar 
is. shivered." 

This is one half of the truth ; but only one hatf. In 
several of the tragedies of Shakspere the tragic disturb- 
ance of character and life is caused by the subjection of 
the chief person of the drama to some dominant passion, 
essentially antipathetic to his nature, though proceeding 
from some inherent weakness or imperfection, — a 
passion from which the victim cannot deliver himself, 
and which finally works out his destruction. Thus 
Othello, whose nature is instinctively trustftil, and con- 
fiding with a noble child-like trust, a man 

Of a free and open natare 
That thinks men honest that but seem to be so, 

a man " not easily jealous," Othello is inoculated with the 
poison of jealousy and suspicion, and the poison maddens 
and destroys him. Macbeth, made for subordination, is 
the victim of a terrible and unnatural ambition. Lear, 
ignorant of true love, yet with a supreme need of loving 
and of being loved, is compelled to hatred, and drives 
from his presence the one being who could have 
satisfied the hunger of his heart. Timon, who would 
fain indulge an universal, lax benevolence is transformed 
to a revolter from humanity ; " I am Misanthropes and 
hate mankind." We may reasonably conjecture that the 
Hamlet of the old play, — a play at least as old as that 
group of bloody tragedies inspired by the earlier works 
of Marlowe, — was actually what Shakspere's Hamlet, 
with a bitter pleasure in misrepresenting his own 
nature, describes himself as being, " very proud, revenge- 


1 30 Shakspere — His Mind and Art 

ful, ambitious." This revengeful Hamlet of the old 
play exhibited, we may suppose, a close kinship to the 
Hamlet of the French novelist, Belleforest, and of the 
English " Historie," — the Hamlet who in the banquet- 
hall bums to death his uncle s courtiers, whom he had 
previously stupefied with strong drink. But Shakspere, 
in accordance with his dramatic method, and his interest 
as artist in complex rather than simple phenomena of 
human passion and experience, when re-creating the 
character of the Danish Prince, fashions him as a man 
to whom persistent action, and in an especial degree the 
duty of deliberate revenge is peculiarly antipathetic. 
Under the pitiless burden imposed upon him Hamlet 
trembles, totters, falls. Thus far Goethe is right 

But the tragic wAvub in Shakspere's first tragedy — 
Romeo and Juliet — was not wholly of a subjective 
character. The two lovers are in harmony with one 
another, and with the purest and highest impulses of their 
own hearts. The discord comes from the outer world : 
they are a pair of " star-crossed lovers." Their love is 
enveloped in the hatred of the houses. Their life had 
grown upon a larger life, a tradition and inheritance of 
hostility and crime ; against this they rebelled, and the 
larger life subdued them. The world fought against 
Borneo and Juliet, and they fell in the imequal strife. 
Now Goethe failed to observe, or did not observe 
sufficiently, that this is also the case with Hamlet : 

The time is out of joint : cursed spite, 
That ever I was born to set it right 

Hamlet is called upon to assert moral order in a 
world of moral confusion and obscurity. He has not an 

Hamlet 131 

open plain or a hillside on which to fight his battle ; but 
a place dangerous and misleading, with dim and winding 
ways. He is made for honesty, and he is compelled to 
use the weapons of his adversaries, compelled to practise 
a shifting and subtle stratagem ; thus he comes to waste 
himself in ingenuity, and crafty device. All the strength 
which he possesses would have become organised and 
available had his world been one of honesty, of happi- 
ness, of human love. But a world of deceit, of espion- 
age, of selfishness surrounds him ; his idealism, at thirty 
years of age, almost takes the form of pessimism ; his 
life and his heart become sterile ; he loses the energy 
which sound and joyous feeling supplies; and in the 
wide-spreading waste of corruption which lies around 
him, he is tempted to understand and detest things, 
rather than accomplish .some limited practical service. 
In the unweeded garden of the world, why should he task / 
hifi life to uproot a single weed ? 

If Goethe's study of the play, admirable aj9 it was, 
misled criticism in one way by directing attention too 
exclusively upon the inner nature of Hamlet, the 
studies by Schlegel and by Coleridge tended to mislead 
criticism in another, by attaching an exaggerated import- 
ance to one element of Hamlet's character. " The 
whole," wrote Schlegel, "is intended to show that a 
calculatiDg consideration, which exhausts all the relations 
and possible consequences of a deed, must cripple the 
power of acting." It is true that Hamlet's power of 
acting was crippled by his habit of " thinking too 
precisely on the event ; " and it is true, as Coleridge 
said, that in Hamlet we see "a great, an almost 

132 Sfiakspere — His Mind and Art. 

enormous intellectual activity, and a proportionate 
aversion to real action consequent upon it." But 
Hamlet is not merely or chiefly intellectual ; the 
emotional side of his character is quite as important as 
the intellectual ; his malady is as deep-seated in his 
sensibilities and in his heart as it is in the brain. If 
all his feelings translate themselves into thoughts, it is 
no less true that all his thoughts are impregnated with 
feeling. To represent Hamlet as a man of preponderat- 
ing power of reflection, and to disregard his craving, 
sensitive heart is to make the whole play incoherent and 

It is Hamlet's intellect, however, together with his 
deep and abiding sense of the moral qualities of things, 
which distinguishes him, upon the glance of a moment, 
from the hero of Shakspere's first tragedy, Romeo. If 
Romeo fail to retain a sense of fact and of the real 
world because the fact, as it were, melts away and 
disappears in a solvent of delicious emotion, Hamlet 
equally loses a sense of fact because with him each 
object and event transforms and expands itself into an 
idea. When the play opens he has reached the age of 
thirty years, — ^the age, it has been said, when the 
ideality of youth ought to become one with and inform 
the practical tendencies of manhood, — and he has 
received culture of every kind except the culture of 
active life. During the reign of the strong-willed elder 
Hamlet there was no call to action for his meditative 

* See W. Oehlmann's article Die Gemuthsseite dee Hamlet - Char- 
acters in Jahrbuch der Deutschen Shakespeare-Qesellschaft, vol iii. 
p. 208. 

Hamlet. 133 

SOD. He has slipped on into years of full manhood still 
a haunter of the university, a student of philosophies, an 
amateur in art, a ponderer on the things of life and 
death, who has never formed a resolution or executed a 

This long course of thinking, apart from action, 
has destroyed Hamlet's very capacity for belief; since 
in belief there exists a certain element contributed by 
the wilL Hamlet cannot adjust the infinite part of him 
to the finite ; the one invades the other and infects it ; 
or rather the finite dislimns and dissolves, and leaves 
him only in presence of the idea. He cannot make real 
to himself the actual world, even while he supposes 
himself a materialist ; he cannot steadily keep alive 
within himself a sense of the importance of any positive, 
limited thing, — ^a deed for example. Things in their 
actual, phenomenal aspect flit before him as transitory, 
accidental and unreal And the absolute truth of things 
is so hard to attain and only, if at all, is to be attained 
in the mind. Accordingly Hamlet can lay hold of 
nothing with calm, resolved energy ; he cannot even 
retain a thought in indefeasible possession. Thus all 
through the play he wavers between materialism and 
spiritualism, between belief in immortality and dis- 
belief, between reliance upon providence and a bowmg 
under fate.* In presence of the ghost a sense of his 

^' * Giordano Brnno lived in London from the year 1583 to 1586, where 
he seems to have received the patronage of Sir P. Sidney, Lord Back- 

^ hurst, and the Earl of Leicester. He became professor at Wittenberg. 
In Shakspere-Forschungen I. Hamlet, by Benno Tschiscbwitz (Halle, 
1868), the author endeavours to prove that Shakspere was acquainted 
with the philosophy of Bruno, and embodied portions of it in the play 
of Hamlet. 

1 34 Shakspere — His Mind and Art. 

own spiritual existence, and the immortal life of the 
soul grows strong within him. In presence of spirit he 
is himself a spirit : — 

I do not set my life at a pin^s'fee ; 
And for my soul, what can it do to that, 
Being a thing immortal aa iteelf ? 

When left to his private thoughts he wavers 
uncertainly to and fro ; death is a sleep, a sleep, it may 
be, troubled with dreams. In the graveyard, in the 
presence of human dust, the base affinities of our 
bodily nature prove irresistibly attractive to the curiosity 
of Hamlet's imagination ; and he cannot choose but 
pursue the histoiy of human dust through all its series 
of hideous metamorphoses. Thus, as Romeo's emotions, 
while he lived in aband(»iment to the life of feeling for 
feeling^s sake, are not genuine emotions, so Hamlet's 
thoughts, while he is given over to the life of brooding 
meditation, are hardly even so much as real thoughts ; 
but are rather phantom ideas which dissolve, reform, 
and dissolve again, changing forever with every wind of 
circumstance. He is incapable of certitude. 

When Hamlet first stands before us, his father has 
been two months dead ; his mother has been for a month 
the wife of Claudius. He is solitary in the midst of 
the court. A mass of sorrow, and of wounded feeling, 
of shame and of disgust has been thrown back upon 
him ; and this secretion of feeling which obtains no vent 
is busy in producing a wide-spreading, morbid humour. 
The misery of self-suppression leaves him in a state of 
weak and intense irritability. Every word uttered 
pricks him, and he is longing to be alone. A little 

Hamlet. 135 

bitterness escapes in his brief acrid answers to the 
king, and when his mother, in her insensibility to true 
feeling, chances upon the word " seems " his irritation 
breaks forth, and after his fashion (that of one who 
relieves himself by speech rather than by deeds) he 
xmpacks his heart in words. The queen who is soft and 
sensual, a lover of ease, withal a little sentimental, and 
therefore incapable of genuine passion, does not resent 
the outbreak of her strange son ; and Hamlet, somewhat 
ashamed of his demonstration, which has the look of a 
display of superior feeling, endures in silence his uncle's 
tedious moralizing on the duties of mourners. Then 
with grave courtesy he yields to his mother's request 
that he should renounce his intention of returning to 

I shall in all my beet obey you, madam. 

What matters it whether he go or stay ! Life is all 
so flat, stale, and unprofitable, that the difference 
between Wittenberg and Elsinore cannot be worth 
contending for.* But when at length he is alone 
Hamlet feels himself enfranchised, — ^free to shed abroad 
his sorrow, to gaze intensely and mournfully upon his 
own aridity of spirit, and to compensate in the idea 
for the expenditure of kindness in act made on his 
mother's behalf. A frail mother, an incestuous mother, 
a mother endowed with less discourse of reason than 
the beasts ! He has satisfied the queen with an act ; 

• Observe the contrast between Hamlet and Laertes. The latter 
wringB by laboursome petition leave from his father to retam to Paris. 
Laertes had come from Paris to the coronation; Horatio, from 
Wittenberg to the late king's funeral. 

136 Shakspere — His Mind and A rt 

and action, this way or that, is profoundly insigui- 
ficant to Hamlet. But in his mind she shall get no 
advantage of him. He will see her as she is, and if he 
is gracious to her in his deeds, he will, in his thoughts, 
be stem and inexorable. 

In this scene we make acquaintance with two impor- 
tant persons in Hamlet's world. " Something is rotten 
in the state of Denmark," exclaimed Marcellus. Bather 
all is rotten — the whole head is sick and the whole . 
heart faint. On the throne, the heart of the living 
organism of a state, reigns the appearance of a king; 
but under this kingly appearance is hidden a wretched, 
corrupt, and cowardly soul, a poisoner of the true king 
and of true kingship, incestuous, gross and wanton, a 
fierce drinker, a palterer with his conscience, and as 
Hamlet vehemently urging the fact describes him "a 
vice of kings," "a villain and a cut-purse," "a pad- 
dock, a bat, a gib." Such is kingship in Denmark. 

And the queen, Hamlet's mother, one of the two 

women from whom Hamlet must infer what womanhood 

is, what is she? For thirty years she had given the 

appearance, the Bmiula/CTwm of true love to her husband, 

one on whom 

Every god did seem to set his seal 
To give the world asBurance of a man, 

one who even in the place of penance still retains his 
solicitude for her ; and this show of thirty years' love 
had proved to be without reality or root in her being ; 
it had been no more than a sinking down upon the 
accidental things of life, its comforts and pleasures ; her 
husband had passed out of her existence like any other 

Hamlet. 137 

casual object ; during all those years of blameless wife- 
hood she had never once conceived the possibility of a 
love which is founded upon the essential, not the acci- 
dental elements of life ; she had never once known what 
is the bond of life to life, and of soul to soul. The 
timid, self-indulgent, sensuous, sentimental queen is as 
remote from true woman's virtue as Claudius is from 
the virtues of royal manhood. 

The third scene of the first act introduces another 
group of personages, distinguished figures of the Danish 
Court. Laertes is the cultured young gentleman of the 
period.* He is accomplished, chivalric, gallant; but 
the accomplishments are superficial, the chivalry theatri- 
cal, the gallantry of a showy kind. He is master of 
events up to a certain point, because he sees their 
coarse, gaudy, superficial significance. It is his part to 
do fine things and make fine speeches; to enter the 
king's presence gallantly demanding atonement for his 
father's murder ; to leap into his sister's grave and utter 
a theatrical rant of sorrow. Hamlet sees in his own 
cause an image of that of Laertes. Each has lost a 
father by foul means, and Laertes delays not to seek 
revenge. But Sbakspere does not make the contrast 
between Hamlet and Laertes favourable to the latter. 
No overweight of thought, no susceptibility of conscience 

* Gervinus has described Hamlet as a man of a civilized period 
standing in the centre of a heroic age of rough manners and physical 
daring. — Shakespeare Commentaries, yol. ii., p. 161. No piece of 
' criticism could fall more wide of the mark. The age of Claudius, 
Folonius, Laertes, Osric, and of the students of philoisophy at Witten- 
berg is an age complex and refined, and in all tilings the reyerse of 
heroic. See Kreyssig, Vorlesungen liber Shakespeare, toI. ii. p. 222. 
(ed. 1862.) 

138 Shakspere — His Mind and Art, 

retard the action of the young gallant. He readily falls 
in with the king's scheme of assassination, and adds his 
private contribution of villainy — ^the venom on his rapier s 
point. Laertes has been no student of philosophic Wit- 
tenberg.* The French capital, " so dear to the average, 
sensual man/' is Laertes' school of education. What 
lessons he leamt there we may conjecture from the 
conversation of Polonius with his servant Reynaldo. 

Laertes' little sister, Ophelia, is loved by the Lord Ham- 
let. What is Ophelia ? Can she contribute to the deliver- 
ance of Hamlet from his sad life of brooding thought, from 
I his weakness and his melancholy ? Jidiet had delivered 
Romeo from his dream of self-conscious egoistic feeling 
into the reality of anguish and of joy. What can 
Ophelia do? Nothing. She is a tender little fi^le 
soul, who might have grown to her slight perfection in 
some neat garden-plat of life. Hamlet falls into the too 
frequent error of supposing that a man gains rest and 
composure through the presence of a nature weak, 
gentle, and clinging; and that the very incapacity of 
such a nature to share the troubles of heart and brain 
which beset one must be a source of refreshment and 
repose. And so it is, for moments, when the pathos of 
slender joy, unaware of the great' interests and sorrows 
of the world, touches us. But a strong nature was what 
Hamlet really needed. All the comfort he ever got in 
life came from one who was " more an antique Roman 
than a Dane," his friend Horatio. If he had found one 

* Shakspere remembered Luther, thinks Qervinus. He had Gior- 
dano Bruno in his mind, says Tschischwitz. The University was 
famous ; Giordano Bruno names it the Athens of Germany. 

Hamlet 139 

who to Horatio's fortitude, his passive strength, had 
added ardour and enthusiasm, Hamlet's melancholy 
must have vanished away; he would have been lifted 
up into the light and strength of the good facts of the 
world, and then he could not have faltered upon his way. 
Afl things were Hamlet quickly learned, and the 
knowledge embittered him, that Ophelia could neither 
receive great gifts of soul, nor in return render equiva- 
lent gifts. There is an exchange of little tokens between 
the lovers, but of the large exchange of soul there is 
none, and Hamlet in his bitter mood can truthfully 
exclaim, " I never gave you aught." Hamlet was con- 
scious of no constraining power to prevent him, when he 
thought of his mother's frailty, from extending his words 
to her whole sex, "Frailty, thy name is woman." Had a 
noble nature stood in Ophelia's place to utter such words 
would have been treason against his inmost conscious- 
ness. Let the reader contrast Juliet's commanding 
energy of feeling, of imagination, of will with Ophelia's 
timidity and self-distrust, the incapable sweetness and 
gentleness of her heart, her docility to all lawful 
guardians and governors. Juliet throws off father, 
mother, and nurse, and stands in solitary strength of 
love ; she always uses the directest word, always coimsels 
the bravest action. In his later plays Shakspere can 
still be seen to rejoice and expand in presence of the 
courage of true love. Desdemona, 

A maiden never bold ; 
Of spirit 80 bUU and quiet that her motion 
Blushed at herself, 

standing by Othello's side can confront her indignant 

1 40 Shakspere — His Mind and Art 

father, with the Duke and magnificoes. Imogen, for 
Posthumus' sake, can shoot against the king her shafts 
of indignant scorn, so keen and exquisite, yet heavily 
timbered enough to wing forward through the wind of 
Cymbeline's anger. But Ophelia is decorous and timid, 
with no initiative in her own heart ; unimaginative ; 
choosing her phrases with a sense of maidenly pro- 
priety : — 

He hath, my lord, of late made many tenders 
Of his affection to me. 

And Polonius inquires, " Do you believe his tenders, as 
you call them?" "I do not know, my lord, what I 
should think." It may be that her brother and father 
are right ; that the " holy vows " of Hamlet on which 
she, poor little soul, had relied, are but "springes to 
catch woodcocks." In her madness, the impression 
made upon her by the words of Polonius and Laertes, 
which she had until then concealed, finds utterance : 
" She says she hears there's tricks i' the world." Juliet 
resolved her doubts, not by consulting old Capulet or 
her nurse, but by pressing forward to perfect knowledge 
of the heart of Romeo, and by occupying that heart with 
a purity of passion only less than her own. Ophelia, 
when her father directs her to distrust the man she 
loves, to deny him her presence, to repel his letters, has 
only her meek, little submission to utter, " I shall obey, 
my lord." 

The comic element in this scene is present, but is not 
obtruded. Shakspere, "der feine Shakspere, der Schalk,"* 

* F. Th. Vi8cher,in Jahrbuch der DentschenShakespeare-Gesellschaft, 
vol. ii, p. 149. 

Hamlet. 141 

smiles visibly, but restrains himself from dowmright 
laughter. Laertes has read his moral lecture to Ophelia, 
and she in turn ventures upon a gentle, little piece of 
sisterly advice. Laertes suddenly discovers that he ought 
to be aboard his ship : " I stay too long." Ophelia " is 
giving the conversation a needless and inconvenient 
turn ; ... for sisters to lecture brothers is an inversion 
of the natural order of things."* But at this moment 
the venerable chamberlain appears. Laertes, who was sup- 
posed to have gone, is caught. There is only one mode 
of escape from the imminent scolding — to kneel and 
ask a second blessing. What matter that it has all 
been said once before ? Start the old man on his hobby 
of uttering wisdom, and off he will go : — 

A double blessing is a double grace ; 
Ocoasion smiles upon a second leave. 

The advice of Polonius is a cento of quotations from 
Lyly's " Euphues." + Its significance must be looked 
for less in the matter than in the sententious manner. 
Polonius has been wise with the little wisdom of worldly 
prudence. He has been a master of indirect means of 
getting at the truth, " windlaces and assays of bias." In 
the shallow lore of life he has been learned. Of true 

• C. E. Moberly. Rugby edition of "Hamlet," p. 21. 

+ Mr W. L. Rushton, in his "Shakespeare's Euphuism, pp. 44-47 
(London, 1871), places side by side the precepts of Polonius and of 
Enphues. "Po^. Give thy thoughts no tongue. Eaph. Be not lavish 
of thy tongue. Pol, Do not dull thy palm, &c. Eu-ph. Every one 
that shaketh thee by the hand is not joined to thee in heart. Pol, 
Beware of entrance to a quarrel, &c. Ewph, Be not quarrellous for 
every light occasion. Pol, Give every man thine ear, but few thy 
voice. EupK, It shall be there better to hear what they say, than to 
speak AK'hat thou thinkest." Both Polonius and Euphiies speak of the 
advice given as ** these few precepts." 

142 Shakspere — His Mind and A ri. 

wisdom he has never had a gleam. And what Shaks- 
pere wishes to signify in this speech is that wisdom of 
Folonius' kind consists of a set of maxims ; all such 
wisdom might be set down for the headlines of copy- 
books. That is to say, his wisdom is not the outflow of 
a rich or deep nature, but the little, accumulated hoard 
of a long and superficial experience. This is what the 
sententious manner signifies. And very rightly Shaks- 
pere has put into Polonius* mouth the noble lines, 

To thine own self be trae. 
And it must follow as the night the day 
Thou canst not then be false to any man. 

Yes ; Polonius has got one great truth among his copy- 
book maxims, but it comes in as a little bit of hard, im- 
vital wisdom like the rest. " Dreaa welly don't lend or 
borrow money ; to thine own self be true!* * 

But to appreciate and enjoy fully the Chamberlain's 
morality, we must observe him in the first scene of the 
second act. Reynaldo is despatched as a spy upon the 
conduct of the son on whom the paternal blessing had 
been so tenderly bestowed. Polonius does not expect 
morality of an ideal kind from the boy. As is natural, 
Laertes in Paris wiU sow his wild oats. If he come 
back the accomplished cavalier, skilful in manage of his 
horse, a master of fencing, able to finger a lute,. Polonius 
will treasure up in his heart, not discontented, the know- 
ledge of his son's " wild slips and sallies." "f 

* Compare and contrast with the advice of Polonius the parting 
words of the Countess to Bertram -(All's Well that Ends Well, Act I., 
So. i.) Observe how the speech of the Countess opens and ends with 
motherly passion of fear and pride, in which lies enclosed her little 
effort at moral precept. 

t The last words of Folonius to Keynaldo are— "And let him 
[Laertes] ply his music." On these words Vischer observes — "Die 

Hamlet. 143 

Meanwhile Hamlet, in the midst of his sterile world- 
weariness, has received a shock, but not the shock of 
joy. His father^s spirit is abroad. With Horatio and 
Marcellus, Hamlet on the platform at night is awaiting 
the appearance of the ghost. The sounds of Claudius* 
revelry reach their ears. Hamlet is started upon a series 
of reflections suggested by the Danish drinking customs ; 
his surroundings disappear ; he has ceased to remember 
the purpose with which he has come hither ; he is lost 
in his own thoughts. The Ghost is present before 
Hamlet is aware ; it is Horatio who interrupts his medi- 
tation, and rouses him to behold the apparition. No 
sooner has Hamlet heard the word " Murder" upon his 
father's lips than he is addrest to "sweep to his re- 
venge," — in the idea, — 

With wingB as swift 
As meditation or the thougbto of love. 

He will change his entire mental stock and store ; he will 
forget his arts and his philosophies ; he will retain no 
thought save of his murdered father. And when the 
ghost departs he draws — " not his sword, but his note- 
book.*" There at least he can get it down in black and 
white that the smiling Claudius is a villian, can put that 
fact beyond the reach of doubt or vicissitude ; for sub- 
jective impressions, Hamlet is too well aware, do not 
retain the certitude which during one vivid moment 

paar Wortchen erst enthalten den ganzen SchlUssel ; der Sohn darf 
Bpielen, trinken, raufen, fluchen, zanken, in saubre H^user, " videlicet 
Bordelle " gehen, wenn er nur Mnsik triebt ; ilchte Gavalierserziebung 1" 
Die realistiBcbe Sbakespeare-Kritik und Hamlet, von F. Th. Viscber in 
Jabrbnob der Dentscben Sbakespeare-Gesellscbaft, yol. ii., p. 149. 

* W. Oeblmann, Jabrbnob der Dentscben Sbakeapeare-Gesellscbaft, 
YoL ill. p. 211. 

1 44 Shakspere — His Mind and A rt. 

seemed to characterise them. He will henceforth re- 
member nothing but the ghost, and to assure himself of 
that, he sets down his father's parting words, " Adieu, 
adieu ! remember me." That is to say, " he puts a 
knot upon his handkerchief." * He is conscious that he 
is not made for the world of action ; that the fact is 
always in process of gliding away from him and being 
replaced by an idea. And he is resolved to guard against 
this in the present instance. 

It is now in a sudden inspiration of excited feeling 
that Hamlet conceives the possibility of his assuming an 
antic disposition. What is Hamlet's purpose in this? 
He finds that he is involuntarily conducting himself in a 
wild and unintelligible fashion. He has escaped " from 
his own feelings of the overwhelming and supernatural 
by a wild transition to the ludicrous, — a sort of cunning 
bravado, bordering on the flights of delirium." His mind 
struggles " to resume its accustomed course, and effect a 
dominion over the awful shapes and sounds that have 
usurped its sovereignty." -f (TEe assumes madness as 
a means of concealing his actual disturbance of mind. 
His over-excitability may betray him ; but if it be a re- 
ceived opinion that his mind is unhinged, such an access of 

* Hebler, Aufsatze ttber Shakespeare (Bern, 1865), p. 138. 

t The first quotation is from S. T. Coleridge ; the second from an 
essay by Hartley Coleridge, " On the Character of Hamlet." Essays 
and Marginalia, vol. i. pp. 151-171. An earlier writer than S. T. Cole- 
ridge had well said, " Hamlet was folly sensible how strange those in- 
voluntary improprieties must appear to others : he was conscious he 
could not suppress them : he knew he was surrounded with spies ; and 
he was justly apprehensive lest his suspicions or purposes should be dis- 
covered. But how are these consequences to be prevented ? By coun- 
terfeiting an insanity which in part exists." — Richardson's Essays on 
Shakespeare's Dramatic Characters (1786), p. 163. 

Hamlet. 145 

over-excitement will pass unobserved and unstudiedj At 
this moment Hamlet's immediate need is to calm him- 
self, to escape into solitude, there to recover self-mastery, 
and come to a clear understanding of the altered state 
of things. In the light of the court he is persecuted by 
the eyes of the curious and the suspicious ; he is " too 
much i' the sun/' To be in presence of all, and yet to 
be hidden, — ^to be intelligible to himself, and a perplexity 
to others, to be within reach of every one, and to be him- 
self inaccessible, that would be an enviable position ! 
Madness possesses exquisite immtmities and privileges. 
From the safe vantage of unintelligibility he can delight 
himself by uttering his whole mind and sending forth 
his words among the words of others, with their mean- 
ing disguised, as he himself must be, clothed in an antic 
garb of parable, dark sayings which speak the truth in a 

Hamlet does not assume madness to conceal any plan 
of revenge. He possesses no such plan. And as far as 
his active powers are concerned, the assumed madness is 
a misfortune. Instead of assisting him to achieve any- 
thing, it is one of the causes which tend to retard his 
action. For now, instead of forcing himself upon the 
world, and compelling it to accept a mandate of his will, 
he can enjoy the delight of a mere observer and critic ; 
an observer and critic both of himself and of others. He 
can understand and mock ; whereas he ought to set 
himself sternly to his piece of work. He utters himself 
henceforth at large, because he is iminteUigible. He 
does not aim at producing any effect with his speech, 
except in the instance of his appeal to Gertrude's con- 

1 46 Shakspere — His Mind and Art 

science. His words are not deeds. They are uttered 
^elf-indulgently to please the intellectual or artistic part 
of him, or to gratify his passing mood of melancholy, of 
iirritation, or of scorn. He bewilders Polonius with 
mockery, which effects nothing, but which bitterly de- 
lights Hamlet by its subtlety and cleverness. He speaks 
with singular openness to his courtier Mends, because 
they, fOled with thoughts of worldly advancement and 
^.mbition, read all his meanings upside down, .and the 
heart of his mystery is absolutely inaccessible to their 
shallow wits. When he describes to them his melan- 
choly he is in truth speaking in solitude to himself. 
Nothing is easier than to throw them off the scent. "A 
knavish speech sleeps in a foolish ear." The exquisite 
cleverness of his mimetics and his mockery is some com- 
pensation to Hamlet for his inaction ; this intellectual 
versatility, this agility flatters his consciousness ; and it 
is only on occasions that he is compelled to observe into 
what a swoon or syncope his will has fallen. 

Yet it has been truly said that only one who feels 
Hamlet's strength should venture to speak of Hamlet's 
weakness. Th&t in spite of difficulties without, and in- 
ward difficulties, he still clings to his terrible duty, — 
letting it go indeed for a time, but returning to it again, 
and in the end accomplishing it — implies strength. He 
is not incapable of vigorous action, — ^if only he be allowed 
no chance of thinking the fact away into an idea. He 
is the first to board the pirate ; he stabs Polonius through 
the arras ; he suddenly alters the sealed commission, and 
sends his schoolfellows to the English headsman ; he 
finally executes justice upon the king. But all his ac- 

Hamlet, 147 

tion is sudden and fragmentary ; it is not continuous 
and coherent His violent excitability exhausts him; 
after the night of encounter with the ghost a fit of abject 
despondency, we may be certain, ensued, which had begun 
to set in when the words were uttered, — 

The tiine 10 out of joint; O, coned npite 
That ever I was born to set it right 

After he has slain Polonius, he weeps ; after his 
struggle with Laertes in Ophelia's grave a mood of de- 
pression ensues : — 

Thos awhile the fit will work on him. 
Anon aa patient as the female dove, 
When that her golden ooupleta are diadoeedy 
Hia silence will ait drooping. 

His feelings are not under control They quickly 
fatigue themselves, like a dog who now hurries before 
his master, and now drops behind, but will not advance 

At the moment when Polonius has dismissed Bey- 
naldo, Ophelia comes running to her -father, '' Alas, my 
lord, I have been so affiighted ! " Such is the piteously 
inadequate response of Ophelia to Hamlet's mute con- 
fession of his sorrow. His letters have been repelled ; 
her presence has been denied to him. Hamlet resolves 
that he will see her, and hear her speak. He goes, 
profoundly agitated, in the disordered attire which is 
now nothing unusual with him, and which constitutes 
part of Hamlet's " transformation." He is not in the 
mood to consider very attentively particulars of the 
toilet. He discovers Ophelia sewing in her closet He 

* The illustration is Hebler'a. 

1 48 Skakspere — His Mind and Art. 

stands unable to speak, holding her hand, gassing in her 
face, trying to discover if there be in her any virtue or 
strength, anything which can give a shadow of hope 
that the widening gulf between them is not quite im- 
passable. He endeavours to make a new study of her 
soul through her eyes. And in her eyes he reads — 
fright. The most piteous part of the incident is that 
Ophelia is whoUy blameless. She is shocked, bewildered, 
alarmed, anxious to run away, and get under Hie protec- 
tion of her father. No wonder Hamlet cannot utter a 
word I No wonder that his gesture expresses absolute 
confirmation of his unhappy fears, utter despair of find- 
ing virtue in her ! A sigh rises from the depths of his 
spirit. He feels that all is over. He knows how strange 
and remote his voice would sound. And as Hamlet can 
feel nothing without generalising, he recognises in this 
failure of heart to answer heart a type of one great sor- 
row of the world. 

Polonius receives from the docile Ophelia the letters 
of Hamlet. She does not shrink from betraying the 
secrets of his weakness and his melancholy confided to 
her. The oddest of the letters, that which seemed most 
incoherent, is carried off to be read aloud to the king, — 
Ophelia consenting. What is the purport of this letter? 
Was it meant as a kind of test? Did Hamlet wish to 
ascertain whether Ophelia would be puzzled by the 
superficial oddity of it, or would penetrate to the grief 
and the love which lay beneath it? "He that hath 
ears to hear let him hear " — upon this principle Hamlet 
constantly acts. He is content that the feeble-hearted 
and dull-witted should find him a puzzle and an offence. 

Hamlet. 149 

The Prince comes by reading. Polonius accosts hitn, 
assuming that Hamlet is downright mad. Hamlet's 
irony here consists in his adoption and exaggeration of 
the ideas of Polonius. ''You have immured your 
daughter ; you have repelled my letters, and denied me 
sight of her ; O wise old man ! for woman's virtue is 
the frailest of things, and there is no male creature who 
is not a corrupter of virtue. If the most glorious and 
vivifying thing in the universe, the sun, will breed 
maggots out of carrion, truly Prince Hamlet may be 
suspected I Beware of your daughter ; Friend look 
to't." And then, in more direct fashion, Hamlet breaks 
forth into a satire on old men with their weak hams and 
most plentiful lack of wit. Polonius retires bewildered, 
and two new persecutors appear. 

In Goethe's novel, "Wilhelm Meister," the hero, when 
adapting the play of Hamlet to the German stage, alters 
it in certain particulars. Serlo, the manager of the 
theatre, suggests that Rosencrantz andGuildenstem should 
be " compressed into one." " Heaven keep me from all 
such curtailments," exclaims Wilhelm ; " they destroy at 
once the sense and the effect What these two persons 
are and do, it is impossible to represent by one. In 
such small matters, we discover Shakspere's greatness. 
These soft approaches, this smirking and bowing, this 
assenting, wheedling, flattering, this whisking agility, 
this wagging of the tail, this allness and emptiness, this 
legal knavery, this ineptitude and insipidity, how can 
they be expressed by a single man ? There ought to be 
at least a dozen of these people if they could be had ; 
for it is only in society that they are anything; they 

1 50 Shakspere — His Mind and Art. 

are society itself, and Shakspere showed no little 
wisdom and discernment in bringing in a pair of them." 
What Goethe admirably expresses, Shakspere "der 
Schalk," has perhaps hinted in the address of the 
king and queen to the pair of courtiers : 

King. Thanks, Roeencrantz and gentle Guildenstem. 
Queen, Thanks, Guildenstem and gentle Bosencrantz. 

That is, " SIX to one, and half a dozen to the other." 
With no tie of friendship, or capacity for true human 
comradeship, the companions hirnt in a couple ; and 
they go with the same indistinguishable smirking and 
bowing to their fate in England. There is grim irony 
in this ending of the courtiers' history. " They were 
lovely, and pleasant in their lives," after the taste of 
Claudius' court, "and in their death they were not 

In the first scene of the third act Ophelia is stationed 
as a decoy to expose to her father and the king, the 
disease of the mam she loves. It will assist, she 
is assured, to bring about Hamlet's restoration ; and 
Ophelia is docile, and does not question her instructors. 
A book of devotions is placed in her hands.* Hamlet 
comes by, brooding upon suicide, upon the manifold ills 

* PoloniuB (giTing the book), says : — 
Read on this book ; 
That show of such an exercise may colour 
Your loneliness. We are oft to blame in this, — 
'Tis too much proved — that with devotion's visage, 
And pious action, we do sugar o'er 
The devil himself. 
Hamlet seeing her at prayer exclaims, 
Nymph, in thy oriaone 
Be all my sins remembered. 

Hamlet. 151 

of the world, and his own weakness. He sees Ophelia^ 
so lovely, so child-like, so innocent, praying. She is for 
a moment something better and more beautiful than 
woman, something "afar from the sphere of his sorrow; *' 
and he involuntarily exclaims, 

Nymph, in thy orisons 
Be all my sins remembered. 

But Ophelia plays her part with a manner that betrays 
her. Observe the four rhymed lines, ending with the 
little set sentence (which looks as if prepared before- 

For to the noble mind 
Rich gifts wax poor when givers prove unkind. 

And then, upon the spot, the Prince's presents are pro- 
duced. How could Hamlet, endowed with swift pene- 
tration as he is, fail to detect the fraud ? He had 
unmasked Bosencrantz and Guildenstem, and thereby his 
suspicions had been quickened. And as for a moment 
he had been touched and exalted by the presence of 
Ophelia's innocence and piety, he is now proportionately 

One of the deepest characteristics of Hamlet's nature, 
is a longing for sincerity, for truth in mind and manners, 
an aversion from all that is false, affected or exaggerated.* 
Ophelia is joined with the rest of them ; she is an 
impostor, a spy ; incapable of truth, of honour, of love. 
Have they desired to observe an outbreak of his insanity? 
He will give it to them with a vengeance. With an 

* False, as the bearing of Rosenorantz and Gnildenstem ; affected, 
as the manner of Osric ; exaggerated, as Laertes' theatrical rant in 
Ophelia's grave. 

152 Shakspere — His Mind and Art. 

almoBt sayage zeal> which is tmdemeath nothing but 
bitter pain, be pounces upon Ophelia's deceit. ''Ha» 
ha, are you honest % " His cruelty is that of an idealist, 
who cannot precisely measure the effect of his words 
upon hid hearer, but who requires to liberate his mind« 
And again Hamlet plays bitterly at approving of the 
principles and conduct of Polonius in the matter of his 
relations with Ophelia: '* You have been secluded from 
that dangerous corrupter of youth, Prince Hamlet ; you 
love to devote yourself to prayer and solitude. Most 
wise and right ! I am all that your father has repre- 
sented me, and worse — ^very proud, revengeful, ambi- 
tious [all that Hamlet was 7io(\, And yet there is in 
the world such a thing as calumny ; it may happen to 
touch yourself some day. You who are so fair and 
frail, so pious in appearance, so false in deed, do you 
look on us men as dangerous to virtue ? / have heard 
a little of women's doings too; keep your precious 
virtue, if you can, and let us male monsters be. Qet 
thee to a nunnery 1" And to complete the startling 
effect of this outbreak of insanity, solicited by his perse- 
cutors, he sends a shafb after the Chamberlain, and a 
shaft after the King; — 

Ham, Where's your father? 

Oph. [Coming out with her docile little lie,"] At home, my lord. 
Ham. Lest the doors be shut upon him, that he may play 
the fool nowhere but in 'a own house. 

This for Polonius; and for the King with menacing 
emphasis the words are uttered, " I say we will have 
no more marriages : those that are married already, all 
but one, shall live ; the rest shall keep as they are. To 
a nunnery, go ! " 

Hamlet. 153 

Hamlet bursts out of the lobby with a triumphant 
and yet bitter sense of having turned the tables upon 
bis tormentors. He has thrown into sudden con- 
fusion the ranks of the enemy. Ophelia remains to 
weep. In the pauses of Hamlet's cruel invective, she 
had uttered her piteous, little appeals to heaven : *' Hea- 
venly powers, restore him ! " " O help him, you sweet 
heavens!" When he abruptly departs, the poor girl's 
sorrow overflows. In her lament, Handet's noble reason, 
which is overthrown, somehow gets mixed .up with the 
elegance of his costume, which has sufiTered equal ruin. 
He who was the " glass of fashion," noticed by every one, 
"the observed of all observers," is a hopeless lunatic. 
She has no bitter thought about her lover. She is " of 
ladies most deject and wretched ; " all her emotion is 
helpless tenderness and sorrow. Her grief is as deep as 
her soul is deep. 

Hamlet now binds himself more closely than ever to 
Horatio. This friend and fellow-scholar is the one ster- 
ling thing in the rotten state of Denmark. There is a 
touching devotion shown by Hamlet to Horatio in the 
meeting which follows the scene in the lobby with Ophe- 
lia ; a devotion which is the overflow of gratitude for 
the comfort and refuge he finds with his friend after the 
recent proof of the incapacity and want of integrity in 
the woman he had loved. Horatio's equanimity, his 
evenness of temper, is like solid land to Hamlet after the 
tossings and tumult of his own heart. The Prince apo- 
logises with beautiful delicacy for seeming to flatty 
Horatio. It is not flattery ; what can he expect from a 
man so poor ? It is genuine delight in the sanity, the 

1 54 Shakspere — His Mind and Art. 

strength, the constancy of Horatio's character. Yet all 
the while Shakspere compels us to feel that it is Hamlet 
with his manifold weakness, and ill-commingled blood 
and judgment, who is the rarer nature of the two ; and 
that Horatio is made to be his helpmate, recognising in 
service his highest duty. 

There is no Friar Laurence in this play. To him the 
Catholic children of Verona carried their troubles, and 
received from their father comfort and counsel. Hamlet 
is hardly the man to seek for wisdom or for succour from 
a priest. Let them resolve his doubts about the soul, 
about immortality, about God first. But Shakspere has 
taken care to show us in the effete society of Denmark, 
where everything needs renewing, what religion is. To 
Ophelia's funeral the Church reluctantly sends her re- 
presentative. All that the occasion suggests of harsh, 
formal, and essentially inhuman dogmatics, \a uttered by 
the Priest. The distracted girl has by untimely accident 
met her death; and therefore, instead of charitable 


Shards, flints, and pebbles should be thrown on her. 

These are the sacred words of truth, of peace, of con- 
solation which Religion has to whisper to wounded 


We should profane the service of the dead, 
To sing a requiem and such rest to her 
As to peace-parted souls. 

This is the religion which h^lps to make Claudius a 

palterer with his conscience, and Hamlet an aimless 

wanderer after truth. Better consort in Denmark with 

players than with priests ! * 

* H. A. Werner. Jshrbuch der Deutschen Shakespeare • Gesell- 
schaft, vol. v., p^ 56. 

Hamlet. 155 

When the play is about to be enacted Hamlet declines 
a seat near his mother, because he wishes to occupy a 
position from which he can scrutinize the king's counte- 
nance. He is now fully roused, every nerve high-strung. 
Just at present Ophelia is nothing to him. If he say 
anything to her it will be for the sake of staying his 
own heart in its tremulous intensity, and getting through 
the eager moments of suspense. It will be something 
issuing from the bitter upper surface of his soul — a 
bitter jest most likely. Hamlet derives an acrid 
pleasure from perplexing and embarrassing Polonius, and 
Rosencrantz, and Quildenstem. Now it pleases him to 
embarrass Ophelia with half-ambiguous obscenities. These^ 
are the electrical sparks which scintillate and snap while 
the current is streaming to its receptacle. With 
Ophelia, who cherished the proprieties as though they 
constituted the moral law, Hamlet finds himself tempted 
to be intolerably improper. Ophelia understands his 
words, and ventures to deliver a gentle reprimand. 
" You are naught, you are naught ; I'll mark the play." 
But Hamlet continues his persecution. All this comes 
from the superficial part of Hamlet ; as one toys with 
some trifie while a doom is impending. His passion is 
concentrated in watching the countenance of the king.* 

This is the night of Hamlet's triumph. The king's 
guilt is unkennelled; Hamlet disposes of one after 
another of his tormentors ; he has superabundant 
energy ; he takes each in turn, and is equal to all. 

* On the speech of "some dozen or sixteen lines'' which Hamlet 
inserts in the play, see a note by F. J. FurnivalL— Thit Academy, Jan. 
3, 1874» pp. 12-13. 

156 Shakspere — His Mind and A rt. 

And yet Hamlet is for ever walking over ice ; his power 
of self-control is never quite to be trastei The success 
of his device for ascertaining the guilt of Claudius is 
followed by the same mood of wild excitement which 
followed the encounter with his father's spirit ; again he 
seems incoherently, extravagantly gay ; again his words 
are "wild and whirling words."* And as on that 
occasion Hamlet had felt the need of calming himself, 
and in his somewhat fantastic way had expressed that 
need, " For my own poor part, look you, I'll go pray," 
so now he calls for music, '' Come, some music ; 
come the recorders ! " But he is haunted by the 
irrepressible Rosencrantz and Quildenstern. 'With them 
Hamlet is now severely and imperiously courteous, now 
enigmatical, now ironical. At last, when he advances to 
interpret his parable of the recorders, he becomes terribly 
direct and frank. The courtiers are silenced ; they have 
not the spirit even to mutter a lie. And having dis- 
posed of them, Hamlet takes in hand Polonius. He is 
assuming the offensive with his foes. He steps forward 
to assist the old chamberlain to expose his folly; he 
lends him a hand to render himself contemptible. 
Next, Hamlet hastens to his mother's closet, f He has 

* On the line "A very, very— pajock,'' see the article on Shakspere 
in Ed\%\JbvTgh Review^ October 1872, pp. 361-62. 

f Of the speech in presence of the praying Clandins, Richardson had 
said what S. T. Coleridge, in other words, repeated, '* I venture to 
affirm that these are not Hamlet's real sentiments." Notice that the 
ghost appears precisely at the point where Hamlet's words respecting 
Clandias are most vituperative. Hamlet is immediately sensible that 
he is weakening his heart with words, and has neglected deeds. The 
air, which had been so heated, seems to grow icy, and the temperatare 
of Hamlet's passion suddenly falls — to rise again by-and-by. 

Hamlet. 157 

words that must be spoken. He has a great essay to 
make towards the deliverance of a human soul from the 
bondage of corruption. The slaughter of Polonius 
appears to him a trivial incident by the way ; it does 
not affect him until he has spent his powers in the 
effort to uplift his mother's weak soul, and breathe into 
it strength and courage and constancy. Then in the 
exhaustion which succeeds his effort, his tears flow fast. 

In the dawn of the following morning Hamlet is 
despatched to England. From this time forward he 
acts, if not with continuity and with a plan, at least 
with energy. He is fallen in love with action ; but the 
action is sudden, convulsive, and interrupted. He is 
abandoning himself more than previously to his chances 
of achieving things; and thinks less of forming any 
consistent scheme. The death of Polonius was acciden- 
tal, and Hamlet recognized, or tried to recognize in it 
(since in his own will the deed had no origin) the 
pleasure of heaven : 

I do repent : but heaven hath pleased it tao, 
To punish me with this, and this with me, 
That I must be their scourge and minister. 

When about to depart for England, Hamlet aocepts the 

necessity with as resolute a spirit as may be, believing, 

or trying to believe, that he and his concerns are in the 

hand of Qod. 

Ham, For England ! 

King, Aj, Hamlet 

Ham, Good. 

^171^. So is it, if thou knew'st our purposes. 
Ham, I see a chenib that sees them. 

That is. My times are in God's hand. Again, when he 

158 Shakspere — His Mind and Art. 

reflects that acting upon a sudden impulse^ in which 
there was nothing voluntary (for the deed was accom- 
plished before he had conceived what it was), he had 
sent his two schoolfellows to death, Hamlet's thoughts 
go on to discover the divine purpose in the event : 

Let us know 
Our indiscretion sometimes senres us well, 
When our deep plots do pall ; and that should teach us 
There's a divinity that shapes our ends, 
Bough-hew them how we wiU. 
Horatio. That is most certain. 

Once more, when Horatio bids the prinoe yield to the 
secret misgiving which troubled his heart before he went 
to the trial of skill with Laertes, Hamlet puts aside his 
friend's advice with the words, "We defy augury; there's 
a special providence in the fall of a sparrow. If it be 
now, 'tis not to come ; if it be not to come, it will be 
now ; if it be not now, yet it will come ; the readiness 
is all." 

Does Shakspere accept the interpretation of events 
which Hamlet is led to adopt? No; the providence 
in which Shakspere believed is a moral order which in- 
cludes man's highest exercise of foresight, energy, and 
resolution. The disposition of Hamlet to reduce to a 
minimum the share which man's conscious will and fore- 
sight has in the disposing of events, and to enlarge the 
sphere of the action of powers outside the will has a 
dramatic, not a theological significance. Helena, who 
clearly sees what she resolves to do, and accomplishes 
neither less nor more than she has resolved, professes a 
different creed : 

HamUt. 159 

Our remedies oft in onrselYee do lie, 
Which we ascribe to heayen ; the fated sky 
Gives us free scope, only doth backward pull 
Our slow designs when we oarselyes are dull.* 

Horatio, a believer in the " divinity that shapes our 
ends," by his promised explanation of the events delivers 
us from the transcendental optimism of Hamlet, and re- 
stores the purely human way of viewing things : 

'" <^ 
Give order that these bodies 

High on a stage be placed to the view ; 

And let me speak to the yet unknowing world 

How these things came about : so shall you hear 

Of carnal, bloody, and imnatural acte, 

Of accidental judgments, casual slaughters, 

Of deaths put on by cunning and forced cause, 

And in this upshot purposes mistook, 

Fall'n on the inventors* heads : all this can I 

Truly deliver. 

The arrival of Fortinbras contributes also to the 
restoration of a practical and positive feeling. With 
none of the rare qualities of the Danish Prince, he 
excels him in plain grasp of ordinary fact. Shakspere 
knows that the success of these men who are limited, 
definite, positive, will do no dishonour to the failure 
of the rarer natures, to whom the problem of living 
is more embarrassing, and for whom the tests of the 
world are stricter and more delicate. Shakspere '' beats 
triumphant" marches not for successful persons alone, 
but also " for conquered and slain persons." 

Does Hamlet finally attain deliverance from his 
disease of will ? Shakspere has left the answer to that 
question doubtful. Probably if anything could supply 

* All's WeU that finds Well, act i sc. 1. 

1 60 Shakspere — His Mind and A rt. 

the link which was wanting between the purpose and 
the deed, it w£^ the achievement of some supreme 
action. The last moments of Hamlet's life are well 
spent, and for energy and foresight are the noblest 
moments of his existence ; he snatches the poisoned 
bowl from Horatio, and saves his Mend ; he gives his 
dying voice for Fortinbras, and saves his country. The 
rest is silence : — 

Had I but time — as this fell sergeant, death, 
Is strict in his arrest — 0, 1 conld tell you. 

But he has not told. Let us not too readily assume 
that we " know the stops '' of Hamlet, that we can 
" pluck out the heart of his mystery." 

One thing, however, we do know — ^that the man who 
wrote the play of Hamlet had obtained a thorough com- 
prehension of Hamlet's malady. And assured, as we 
are by abundant evidence, that Shakspere transformed 
with energetic will his knowledge into fact, we may be 
confident that when Hamlet was written, Shakspere had 
gained a fiirther stage in his culture of self-control, and 
that he had become not only adult as an author, but had 
entered upon the full maturity of his manhood.* 

* To refer even to the best portion of the unmenBe Hamlet-Iiteratare 
would require considerable space. I believe my study of the play is 
indebted chiefly to the article by H. A. Werner in Jahrbuch der 
I>eutschen ShiUiespeare Cresellschaft, vol. v., and to an essay by my 
friend, J. Todhunter, M.D., read before the Dublin University 
Shakspere Society. The doctors of the insane have been studious of 
the state of Hamlet's mind — Doctors Bay, Kellogg, ConoUy, Maudsley, 
Bucknill. They are unanimous in wishing to put Hamlet under 
judicious medical treatment ; but they find it harder than Polonins did 
to hit upon a definition of madness : — 

For to define true madness 
What is*t but to be nothing else but mad. 

Hamlet. i6i 

The critics are nearly equally divided in their estunatea of Ophelia. 
Flathe ia extravagantly hostile to the Pokmina family. Mr Buakia 
(Sesame and Lilies) may be mentioned among English writers as form- 
ing no favoorable estimate of Ophelia; and against Mrs Jameson's 
anthority, as that of a woman, we may set the authority of a lady 
writer in Jahrbuch der Deutschen Shakespeare-Gesellschaft, voL ii., 
pp. 16-36. ViBcher chivalronsly defends Ophelia^ and Hebler coincides. 
The study of Hamlet, by Benno Tschisohwits, is learned and ingenious. 
H. von fViesen's " Briefe liber Shakespeare*s Hamlet " contains much 
more than its name implies, and is indeed a study of the entire 
development of Shakspere. Sir Edward Strachey's " Shakspeare's 
Hamlet," 1848, interprets the play throughout in a different sense from 
the interpretation attempted in this chapter. See especially what is 
called " Hamlet's final discovery," pp. 91-93. 



The historical plays of Shakspere may be approached 
from many sides. It would be interesting to endeavour 
to ascertain from them what was Shakspere's political 
creed.* It would be interesting to compare his method 
as artist when handling historical matter with that of 
some other great dramatist, — with that of Schiller when 
writing " Wallenstein," or Goethe when writing 
'' Egmont," or Victor Hugo when writing " Crom- 
well." Shakspere's opinions, however, and Shakspere's 
method as artist are less than Shakspere himself. It is 
the man we are still seeking to discover — behind his 
works, behind his opinions, behind his artistic process. 
Shakspere's life, we must believe, ran on below his art, 
and was to himself of deeper import than his work as 
artist. Not perhaps his material life, though to this also 
he contrived to make his art contribute, but the life of 
his inmost being. To him art was not, as it has been 

* See on this subject Shakspere- Forschungen by Benno Tschisch- 
witz, III. Shakspere's Staat and K^nigthnm. The writer dwells on 
the moral and religions character of the relation between king and 
people as conceived by Shakspere. He says well ''FUr Shakspere 
n&mlich ist das Eonigthnm durchans nicht die gekrOnte SpUze einer 
Pyramids^ sondem der lebendige Mittelpunkt eines organischen 
Oanzen, nach welchem zn das Gesanuntleben des Organismns pnlsirt," 
p. 84. See the subsequent chapter in this volume upon " The Roman 
riays," pp. 276-336. 

The English Historical Plays. 163 

to some poets and painters and musicians, a temple- 
worship ; a devotion of self, a surrender which is at once 
blissful and pathetic to some presence greater and nobler 
than' dneself. Of such pathos we discover none in 
Shakspere's life. He possessed his art, and was not 
possessed by it. With him poetry was not, as it was 
with Keats, or as it was with Shelley, a passion from 
which deliverance was impossible. Shakspere delivered 
himself from his life as artist with quiet determination, 
and found it well to enjoy his store of worldly success, 
and learn to possess his soul among the fields and 
streams of Stratford, before there came an end of all. 
The main question therefore which it is desirable to put 
in the case of the historical plays now to be considered 
is this — What was Shakspere gaining for himself of 
wisdom or of strength while these were the organs 
through which his faculties of thought and imagination 
nourished themselves, inhaling and exhaling their breath 
of life \ That Shakspere should have accomplished so 
great an achievement towards the interpreting of history 
is much, — that he should have grasped in thought the 
national life of England during a century ahd upwards, 
in her periods of disaster and collapse, of civil embroil- 
ment, and of heroic union and exaltation, — this is much. 
But that by his study of history Shakspere should have 
built up his own moral nature, and have fortified him- 
self for the conduct of life, was, we may surmise, to 
Shakspere the chief outcome of his toil. 

And certainly not the least remarkable thing about 
these historical plays is that while each is an efifort so 
earnest to realise objective fact, at the same time they 

1 64 Shakspere — His Mind and Art 

disclose so much of the writer's personality. Even 
Shakspere cannot transcend himself. Facts must group 
and organise themselves before they become available for 
the service of art ; and for each artist they group them* 
selves around his strongest feelings and most cherished 
convictions respecting human life. If by favourable 
chance hands at work among confused slips of ancient 
parchment were to lay hold of the inventory of Shak- 
spere's goods and chattels, if it were ascertained what 
household stuff the poet had gathered around hint at 
Stratford, the information would be eagerly welcomed as 
throwing light upon the obscure story of his worldly 
career. But here in these historical plays and in all his 
plays, are documents written over everywhere with facts 
about Shakspere. The facts are there, — ^must be there. 
What is required to ascertain them can be nothing but 
eyes to which those facts will disclose themselves. 

If the outline of Shakspere's character sketched in 
these pages be at all a genuine likeness, we shall not 
think of him merely or chiefly as the gay, genial, quick- 
witted haunter of the Mennaid, careering in light 
defiance around the bulk of Ben Jonson's mind ; we 
shall not remember him as the Shakspere about whose 
deer-stealing expeditions in the country, and less 
innocent adventures in town, stories of dubious authority 
have come down to us. We shall rather think of him 
as a man possessing immense potential strength, but 
aware of certain weaknesses of his own nature ; resolved 
therefore to be stem with himself and to master those 
weaknesses ; resolved to realise all that potential strength 
which lay within him. That his sensitiveness to 

The English Historical Plays. 1 65 

pleasure and to- pain was of extraordinary range and 
delicacy we are certain ; we are certain also that he 
determined he would not leave himself to be the play- 
thing, the thrall or the victim of that sensitiveness. 
We are accustomed to speak of the tenderness, the 
infinite tolerance of the genius of Shakspere. The 
impartial student must surely be no less impressed by 
the unyielding justice of Shakspere, his stem fidelity to 
fact ; and by the large demands he mak^s upon human 
character. By much of our passionate intolerance 
founded upon prejudice, and personal or class-feeling, 
Shakspere remained wholly untouched. When we come 
to Shakspere and miss our own little bitternesses and 
violences, and find him so large and human, we 
naturally describe him as tolerant. Shakspere's tolerance, 
however, is nothing else but justice, and even his 
humour, the humour of a man framed for abundant joy 
and sorrow, has in it something of severity ; because he 
employs it to recover himself from the narrowing 
intensity of his enthusiasms, and to restore him to the 
level of everyday fact. In the characters of the weak or 
the wicked whom he condenms Shakspere denies no 
beautiful or tender trait ; but he condemns them without 

The characters in the historical plays are conceived 
chiefly with reference to action. The world represented 
in these plays is not so much the world of feeling or of 
thought, as the limited world of the practicable. In the 
great tragedies we are concerned more with what mltn t8 
than with what he Aoe», At the close of each tragedy 
we are left with a sense of measureless failure, oi* with 

1 66 Skakspere — His Mind and A rt. 

the stem joy of absolute and concluded attainment. 
There is something infinite in thought and emotion. We 
do not think so far, and then stop ; beyond the known 
our thoughts must travel until they are confronted by 
the unknowable. • We do not love, we do not suffer so 
much and no more ; our love is without limitation, and 
our anguish and our joy cannot be weighed in the bal- 
ances of earth. But our deeds are definite. And each 
man when tested by deeds can be brought to a positive 
standard. The question in this case is not, What has 
been the life of your soul, what have you thought and 
suffered and enjoyed ? The question is. What have you 
done ? And accordingly in the historical plays we are 
conscious of a certain limitation, a certain measuring of 
men by positive achievements and results : 

Action 18 transitory — a step, a blow, 

Tiie motion of a muscle — ^this way or that — 

^ris done ; and in the after-vacancy 

We wonder at ourselves like men betrayed: 

Suffering is permanent, obscure, and dark, 

And has the nature of infinity. 

The histories, like the tragedies, are for the reader a 
, school of discipline ; but the issues with which they deal 
are not the infinite issues of life and death ; the impres- 
sion each leaves at the close is not an impression of 
measureless pathos, or of pain dissolved in perfect joy. 
They deal with the finite issues of failure or success in 
the achieving of practical ends; and the feeling which 
they leave with us is that of a wholesome, mundane pity 
and terror, or a sane and strong mundane satisfaction. 

But if the historical plays cannot compete with the 
tragedies in depth of spiritual significance, they compen- 

The English Historical Plays. 167 

sate in some measure for this, as Qervinus has observed, 
by their breadth and comprehensiveness. The life of 
man, good or evil, is not seen in its infinite significance 
for the individual, but its consequences are shown in a 
definite series of events, as a sanative virtue in society, 
or as a spreading infection. The mystery of evil is not 
here an awful shadow, before which we stand appalled, 
striving to accept the darkness which is not understood 
for the light's sake, which authenticates and justifies 
itself. Evil in the historical plays is wrong-doing, which 
is followed by inevitable retribution. Sir Walter Raleigh, 
in the preface to the " History of the World," has traced 
in a remarkable passage, written possibly to vindicate 
his own orthodoxy, the justice of God in the lives of 
English kings. '' Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall 
he also reap." '' The sins of the fathers shall be visited 
tti>on the children to the third and fourth generation ;" 
these are the texts of Raleigh's theology of history. 
Going over the same period of history, Shakspere, with 
an unfaltering hand, exposes the consequences of weak- 
ness, of error, and of crime. Our greatest living novelist 
has insisted with dreadful emphasis upon the irreparable, 
irreversible issue still developing itself, of every base 
or evil deed. Shakspere denies fact as little as George 
Eliot. But he shows us also how the sources of good 
are incalculable ; he shows us how the consequences of 
ill deeds may at a later time be caught up by a flood of 
blessing, and may refiJly be borne away for ever into 
oblivion. It is indeed demonstrably true that the power 
which survives an evil act can be subdued or transformed 
only at the expense of so much of the virtuous force of 

1 68 Shakspere — His Mind and Art. 

the world. Still it is well to be assored that evil even 
at the expense of good oon be subdued ; such an assur- 
ance buoys us above despair. In the stem justice of 
Geoige Eliot there is a certain idealism which proceeds 
from a desire for scientific rigour, definiteness, and certi- 
tude. Shakspere, possessing himsdf of the concrete 
facts of the world with a laig^ grasp, shows us the min- 
gled web of good and evil, as it actually is ; and to dra;v 
the threads asimder, and observe each one apart from 
the rest is hardly less di£Scult to aocomidish in Shak- 
spere's world of imagination than in that of the veritable 
life of man. 

Setting aside Henry YIII., a play written probably 
for some special occasion, or upon some special occasion 
handed over to the dramatist Fletcher to complete ; set- 
ting aside also the somewhat alight sketdi of Edward lY.^ 
which appears in King Henry YI.^ Part iii., and in the 
opening scenes <^ King Richard III., six full-length por- 
traits ^ kings of England have been left by Shakspere. 
These six fall into two groups of three each,-^-one group 
consisting of studies of kingly weakness, the other group 
of studies of kingly strength. In the one group stand 
King John, King Richard II., and King Henry YI ; in 
the other King Henry lY., King Henry Y., and King 
Richard III. John is the royal criminal, weak in his 
criminality ; Henry YT. is the royal saint, weak in his 
saintliness. The feebleness of Richard II. cannot be 
characterised in a word ; he is a graceful, sentimental 
monarch. Richard III., in the other group, is a royal 
criminal, strong in his crime. Henry lY., the usurping 
Bolingbroke, is strong by a fine craft in dealing with 


The English Historical Plays. 1 69 

events, by resolution and policy, by equal caution and 
daring. The strength of Henry V. is that of plain heroic 
magnitude, thoroughly sound and substantial, founded 
upon the eternal verities. Here, then, we may recog- 
nise the one dominant subject of the histories, viz., how 
a man may fail, and how a man may succeed in attaining 
a practical mastery of the world. These plays are, as 
Schlegel has named them, a '' mirror for kings ; " and 
the characters of these plays all lead up to Henry Y., 
the man framed for the most noble and joyous mastery 
of things. 


In King John the hour of utmost ebb in the national 
life of England is investigated by the imagination of the 
poet. The king reigns neither by warrant of a just title, 
nor, like Bolingbroke, by warrant of the right of the 
strongest. He knows that his house is founded upon 
the sand ; he knows that he has no justice of Qod and 
no virtue of man on which to rely. Therefore he as- 
sumes an air of authority and regal grandeur. But 
within all is rottenness and shame. Unlike the bold 
usurper Richard, John endeavours to turn away his eyes 
from facts of which he is yet aware ; he dare not 
gaze into his own wretched and cowardly soul. When 
threatened by France with war, and now alone with his 
mother, John exclaims, making an effort to fortify his 
heart, — 

Our strong poBBanon and oar right for oa. 

But Elinor, with a woman's courage and directness, for- 
bids the unavailing self-deceit, — 

1 70 Shakspere — His Mind and A rL 

Your BtroDg poBseasion much more than your right, 
Or elae it must go wrong with you and me. 

King Richard, when he would make away with the 
young princes, summons Tyrrel to his presence, and 
enquires with cynical indifference to human sentiment, 

Dar'st thou resolve to kill a friend of mine ? 

and when Tyrrel accepts the commission, Richard, in a mo- 
ment of undisguised exultation, breaks forth with " Thou 
sing'st sweet music !*' John would inspire Hubert with 
his murderous purpose rather like some vague influence 
than like a personal will, obscurely as some pale mist 
works which creeps across the fields, and leaves blight 
behind it in the sunshine. He trembles lest he should 
have said too much ; he trembles lest he should not 
have said enough ; at last the nearer fear prevails, and 
the words "death," " a grave," form themselves upon his 
lips. Having touched a spring which will produce 
assassination he ftirtively withdraws himself from the 
mechanism of crime. It suits the king*s interest after- 
wards that Arthur should be living, and John adds to 
his crime the baseness of a miserable attempt by 
chicanery and timorous sophisms to transfer the re- 
sponsibility of murder from himself to his instrument 
8uid accomplice. He would fain darken the eyes of his 
conscience and of his understanding. 

The show of kingly strength and dignity in which John 
is clothed in the earlier scenes of the play, must therefore be 
recognised (although Shakspere does not obtrude the fact), 
as no more than a poor pretence of true regal strength and 
honour. The fact, only hinted in these earlier scenes, 

The English Historical Plays. 171 

becomes afterwards all the more impressive, when the 
time comes to show this dastard king, who had been so 
great in the barter of territory, in the sale of cities, in 
the sacrifice of love and marriage-truth to policy ; now 
changing from pale to red in the presence of his own 
nobles, now vainly trying to tread back the path of 
crime, now incapable of enduring the physical suffering 
of the hour of death. Sensible that he is a king with 
no inward strength of justice or of virtue, John en- 
deavours to buttress up his power with external supports; 
against the advice of his nobles he celebrates a second 
coronation, only forthwith to remove the crown from his 
head and place it in this hands of an Italian priest 
Pandulph ''of fair Millaine cardinal," who possesses the 
astuteness and skill to direct the various conflicting forces 
of the time to his own advantage, Pandulph is the de 
f<u^ master of England, and as he pleases makes peace 
or announces war. 

The country, as in periods of doubt and danger, was 
" possessed with rumours, full of idle dreams.'* Peter 
of Pomfret had announced that before Ascension day at 
noon the king should deliver up his crown. John sub- 
mits to the degradation demanded of him, and has the 
incredible baseness to be pleased that he has done so of 
his own free will : 

la thU Ascension-day? did not the prophet 
Say that before Ascension-day at noon 
My crown I should give off ? Even so I have. 
I did suppose it should be on constraint ; 
But, heaven be thank'd ! it is but voluntary. 

After this we are not surprised that when the Bastard 
endeavours to rouse him to manliness and resolution. 

1 72 Shakspere — His Mind and Art 

Away and glister like the god of war 
When he intendeth to become the field, 

John is not ashamed to announce the '' happy peace " 
which he has made with the Papal legate, on whom he 
relies for protection against the invaders of England. 
Faulconbridge still urges the duty of an eflfort at self- 
defence, for the sake of honour, and of safety, and the 
King, incapable of accepting his own responsibilities and 
privileges, hands over the care of England to his ill^ti- 
mate nephew, '' Have thou the ordering of this present 

There is little in the play of King John which 
strengthens or gladdens the heart. In the tug of selfish 
power, hither and thither, amid the struggle of kingly 
greeds, and priestly pride, amid the sales of cities, the love- 
less marriage of princes, the rumours and confusion of the 
people, a pathetic beauty illumines the boyish figure of 
Arthur, so gracious, so passive, untouched by the adult 
rapacities and crimes of the others : 

Good, my mother, peace ! 
I would that I were low laid in my grave ; 
I am not worth thia coil that*8 made for me. 

The voice of maternal passion, a woman's voice 
impotent and shrill, among the unheeding male forces, 
goes up also from the play. There is the pity of stem, 
armed men for the ruin of a child's life. These, and the 
boisterous but genuine and hearty patriotism of Faulcon- 
bridge, are the only presences of human virtue or beauty 
which are to be perceived in the degenerate world 
depicted by Shakspere. And the end, like what 
preceded it, is miserable. The King lies poisoned, over- 

The English Historical Plays. 1 73 

mastered by mere physical agony, agony which leaves 
little room for any pangs of conscience, were the palsied 
moral nature of the criminal capable of such nobler 
suffering : 

I am a scribbled fonn, drawn with a pen 
Upon a parchment, and against this fire 
Do I shrink up. 


Whether any portions of the first part of Henry VI. 
be from the hand of Shakspere, and if there be, what 
those portions are, need not be here investigated. The 
play belongs, in the main, to the pre-Shaksperian school. 
Shakspere finds his own genius for the dramatic render- 
ing of history for the first time distinctly in the second 
and third parts of Henry VI, The writer of the first 
part does not stand above the characters which he creates; 
he is violently prejudiced against some, and he feels a 
lyrical delight in singing the praises of others. But in 
the treatment of the characters of the King, of Qloster, * 
of York, of Richard, in the later parts of the trilogy the 
Shaksperian impartiality and irony are clearly discern- 
ible. Shakspere does not hate ELing Henry ; he is as 
favourably disposed to him as is possible ; but he says, 
with the same clear and definite expression in which the 
historical fact uttered itself, that this saint of a feeble 
type upon the throne of England was a curse to the land 
and to the time only less than a royal criminal as weak 
as Henry would have been. 

The heroic days of the fifth Henry, when the 
play opens, belong to the past; but their memory 

1 74 Shakspere — His Mind and Art 

survives in the hearts and in the vigorous muscles 
of the great lords and earls who surround the 
king. He only, who most should have treasured 
and augmented his inheritance of glory and of power, 
is insensible to the large responsibilities and privileges 
of his place. He is cold in great affairs; his supreme 
• concern is to remain blameless. Free from all greeds 
and ambitions, he yet is possessed by egoism, the egoism 
of timid saintliness. His virtue is negative, because 
there is no vigorous basis of manhood within him out 
of which heroic saintliness might develop itself. For 
fear of what is wrong, he shrinks from what is right 
This is not the virtue ascribed to the nearest followers 
of *' the Faithful and True who in his righteousness doth 
judge and make war." Henry is passive in the pre- 
sence of evil, and weeps. He would keep his garments 
clean ; but the garments of God's soldier-saints, who do 
not fear the soils of struggle, gleam with a higher, in- 
tenser purity. " His eyes were as a flame of fire, and 
on his head were many crowns. . . . And the armies 
which were in heaven followed him upon white horses 
clothed in fine linen, white and clean." These soldiers 
in heaven have their representatives in earth ; and Henry 
was not one of these. Zeal must come before charity, 
and then when charity comes it will appear as a self- 
denial.* But Henry knows nothing of zeal ; and he is 
amiable, not charitable. 

There is something of irony in the scene with which 
the second part of Henry VI. opens. Suffolk, the Lance- 
lot of this tragedy, has brought from France the Princess 
* J. H. Newman. Verses on Various Occasions, p. 60. 

The English Historical Plays. 175 

Margaret, and the joy of the blameless king upon re- 
ceiving, at the cost of two hard-won provinces, this ter- 
rible wife, who will " dandle him like a baby," has in it 
'something pitiable, something pathetic, and something 
ludicrous. The relations of the King to Margaret 
throughout the play are delicately and profoundly con- 
ceived. He clings to her as to something stronger than 
himself; he dreads her as a boy might dread some for- 
midable master : 

Exeter. Here comes the Queen, whose looks betray her anger: 

ril steal away. 
Henry. And so will I. 

Yet through his own freedom from passion, he derives a 
sense of superiority to his wife ; and after she has dashed 
him all over with the spray of her violent anger and her 
scorn, Henry may be seen mildly wiping away the drops, 
insufferably placable, offering excuses for the vitupera- 
tion and the insults which he has received* 

Poor Queen, how love to me and to her son 
Hath made her break out into terms of rage. 

Among his "wolfish Earls" Henry is in constant 
terror, not of being himself torn to pieces, but of their 
flying at one another's throats. Violent scenes, disturb- 
ing the cloistral peace which it would please him to see 
reign throughout the universe, are hateful and terrible 
to Henry. He rides out hawking with his Queen and 
Suffolk, the Cardinal and Gloster; some of the riders 
hardly able for an hour to conceal their emulation and their 
hate. Henry takes a languid interest in the sport, but 
all occasions supply food for his contemplative piety ; 

1 76 Shakspere — His Mind and Art. 

he suffers from a certain incontinence of devout feeling, 
and now the falcons set him moralising : 

Bat what a point, my lord, your falcon made, 
And what a pitch she flew ahoye the rest 1 
To see how Qod in all his creatures works ! 

A moment after, and the peers, with Margaret among 
them, are bandying furious words. Henr/s anguish is 
extreme, but he hopes that something may be done by a 
few moral reflections suitable to the occasion : 

I pry'thee, peace. 
Good Qneen, and whet not on these furious peers, 
For blessed are the peacemakers on earth. 
Cardinal Let me be blessed for the peace I make 

Against this proud Protector with my sword. 

The angry colloquy is presently silenced by the cry, 
" A miracle ! a miracle !" and the impostor Simcox and 
his wife appear. Henry, with his fatuous proclivity to- 
wards the edifying, rejoices in this manifestation of Qod's 
grace in the restoration to sight of a man bom blind : 

Great is his comfort in this earthly vale, 
Although by his sight his sin be multiplied; 

(That is to say, " If we had the good fortune to be de- 
prived of all our senses and appetites, we should have a 
fair chance of being quite spotless ; yet let us thank God 
for his mysterious goodness to this man !") And once 
more, when the Protector, by a slight exercise of shrewd- 
ness and common sense, has unmasked the rogue, and 
has had him whipt, extreme is the anguish of the King : 

/T. Hen. God I seest Thou this, aud bearest so long? 
Q^een. It made me laugh to see the yillain run. 

But the feeble saint, who is cast down upon the occur- 

The English Historical Plays. 177 

rence of a piece of vulgar knavery, can himself abandon 

to butchers the noblest life in England. His conscience 

assures him that Qloster is innocent ; he hopes the Duke 

will be able to clear himself; but Gloster's judges are 

Suffolk, " with his cloudy brow," sharp Buckingham, 

And dogged York, that reaches at the moon. 

Henry is not equal to confironting such terrible faces as 

these ; and so trusting to God, who will do all things 

well, he slinks out of the Parliament shedding tears, and 

leaves Qloster to his fate : 

My lords, what to your wifldoms eeemeth best, 
Do, or undo, as if ourself were here. 

When Henry hears that his imcle is dead he swoons ; 
he suspects that the noble old man has been foully dealt 
with ; but judgment belongs to God ; possibly his sus- 
picion may be a false one ; how terrible if he shoulo 
sully his purity of heart with a false suspicion; may 
God forgive him if he do so ! And thus humouring his 
timorous, irritable conscience, Henry is incapable of 
action, and allows things to take their course. 

This morbid scrupulosity of conscience which charac- 
terizes Henry while he neglects the high duties of his 
position sets him speculating uneasily about the validity 
of his title to the throne — ^a title which has descended 
through the great victor of Agincourt from Henry's 
grandfather. He turns from York to Warwick, from 
Warwick to Northumberland, uncertain what he ought 
to think. Clifford boldly cuts the knot; and Henry's 
courage revives : 

King Henry, be thy title right or wrong, 
Lord Clifford tows to fight in thy defence. 

1 78 Shakspere — His Mind and Art. 

But the king, in the presence of armed force, cannot 
maintain his resolution, and ends by a compromise, 
which, upon condition of the forfeiture of his son's rights, 
will secure peace in hAs days. We sympathize with the 
indignant Margaret. Yet in Henry's conduct there has 
been no active selfishness ; he has only accepted peace 
at the price required. 

Between York on the one hand, and York's instru- 
ment. Jack Cade, on the other, the unhappy king is 
hard set. Not that it is of himself he chiefly thinks ; 
he suffers on account of the rebels as much as on his 
own account. He will parley with Cade; still better, 
he will send " some holy bishop " to entreat with the 
rebels. York, meanwhile, is approaching, and demands 
that the king's adviser, Somerset, be removed. Henry, 
with placid acquiescence, sees Somerset prepared to 
sacrifice himself, and despatches Buckingham to confer 
in gentle language with his antagonist. At least the 
virtue to refrain from disguising, as John disguised, 
imder high-sounding words, the abjectness of his state 
belongs to Henry : 

I pray thee, Buckingham, go and meet him, 

And ask him what's the reason of these arms. 

Tell him 111 send Duke Edmund to the Tower ; 

And, Somerset, we will commit thee hither 

Until his army he dismissed from him. 
Som, My lord, 

ru yield myself to prison willingly, 

Or unto death, to do my country good. 
K, Hen, In any case be not too rough in terms. 

For he is fierce, and cannot brook hard language. 
Buck. I will, my lord ; and doubt not so to deal 

As all things shall redound unto your good. 
K, Hen. Come, wife, let* s in and learn to govern better. 

For yet may England o.nrse my wretched reign. 

The English Historical Plays. 1 79 

At length the wretched reign approaches its end. 

Henry has longed to be a subject, and he is such for 

some short time before his death. From the battle in 

which Richard, blood -hound- wise, is pursuing ClifiFord, 

Henry withdraws, and, seating himself upon a mole-hill, 

meditates on the happy life of shepherd-swains, and 

prays that to whom God wills the victory may fall. He 

mildly begs the fugitives to take him along with them : 

Nay, take me with thee, good sweet Exeter ; 
Not that I fear to stay, but love to go 
Whither the queen iutends. 

When the keepers make him their prisoner, Henry is 
sincerely concerned about the purity of conscience of his 
captors. He enquires, with unfeigned and disinterested 
anxiety, whether they have taken an oath of allegiance 
to him. At all events he will not now command them 
to release him, and so they cannot offend. His own 
fate does not concern him ; he wears his crown Content; 
and he is sure that the new king will execute neither 
more nor less than God wills. 

In prison Henry at last is really happy; now he 
is responsible for nothing; he enjoys for the first 
time tranquil solitude ; he is a bird who sings in 
his cage. His latter days he will spend, to the re- 
buke of sin and the praise of his creator, in devo- 
tion. Henry's equanimity is not of the highest kind ; 
he is incapable of commotion. His peace is not that 
which underlies wholesome agitation, a peace which 
passes understanding. '' Quietness is a grace, not in 
itself ; only when it is grafted on the stem of faith, zeal, 
self-abasement, and diligence." * If Henry had known 
* J. H. Newman, Parochial and Plain Sermons, vol. v., p. 71. 

1 80 Shakspere — His Mind and Art 

the nobleness of true kingship, his content in prison 
might be admirable ; as it is, the beauty of that content 
does not strike us as of a rich or vivid kind. But the 
end is come, and that is a gain. Henry has yielded to 
the house of York, and the evil time is growing shorter. 
The words of the great Duke of York are confirmed by 
our sense of fact and right : 

King did I call thee? Day, thou art not king. 

Give place ; by heaven thou shalt rule no more 
O'er him whom heaven created for thy ruler.* 


Certain qualities which make it unique among the 
dramas of Shakspere characterize the play of King 
Richard III. Its manner of conceiving and presenting 
character has a certain resemblance, not elsewhere to be 
found in Shakspere's writings, to the ideal manner of 
Marlowe. As in the plays of Marlowe, there is here one 
dominant figure distinguished by a few strongly marked 
and inordinately developed qualities. There is in the 

* Withoat entering into the controversy as to the authorship of the 
"First Part of the Contention," and "The True Tragedie " (the old phiys 
corresponding to the second and third parts of King Henry VI. ), it may 
be instructive to mention how authorities are divided. In favour of 
Shakspere's authorship of these plays, Johnson, Steevens, Knight, 
Schlegel, Tieck, Ulrici, Delius, Oechelhauser, H. von Friesen. In 
favour of Greene's or Marlowe's authorship, Malone, Collier, Dyce, 
Courtenay, Gervinus, Kreyssig and the French critics. Clark and 
Wright, Halliwell, Lloyd, and others believe that a portion of Shak- 
spere's work may be found in these old plays. See the note from 
which I partly obtain this list of authorities in Jahrbuch der Deut- 
sohen Shakespeare-Gesellschaft, voL iii., p. 42. See also in vol. i. 
the article by Ubici, "Christopher Marlowe und Shakespeare's Ver- 
haltniss zu ihm." Mr Grant White, as abeady stated, believes in the 
joint authorship of Shakspere, Marlowe, Greene, and Peele. 

The English Historical Plays. 1 8 1 

characterization no mystery, but much of a daemonic 
intensity. Certain passages are entirely in the lyrical- 
dramatic style ; an emotion, which is one and the same, 
occupying at the same moment two or three of the per- 
sonages, and obtaining utterance through them almost 
simultaneously, or in immediate succession ; as a musical 
motive is interpreted by an orchestra, or taken up singly 
by successive instruments: — 

Q. Eliz, Was never widow had so dear a loss I 
Children. Were never orphans had so dear a loss! 
Duchess, Was never mother had so dear a loss ! 
Alas ! I am the mother of these griefs. 

Mere verisimilitude in the play of King Richard III. 
becomes at times subordinate to effects of symphonic 
orchestration, or of statuesque composition. There is a 
Blake-like terror and beauty in the scene in which the 
three women, — queens and a duchess, — seat themselves 
upon the ground in their desolation and despair, and cry 
aloud in utter anguish of spirit. First by the mother of 
two kings, then by Edward's widow, last by the terrible 
Medusa-like Queen Margaret the same attitude is 
assumed, and the same grief is poured forth. Misery 
has made them indifferent to all ceremony of queenship, 
and for a time to their private differences ; they are 
seated, a rigid yet tumultuously passionate group, in the 
majesty of mere womanhood and supreme calamity. 
Readers acquainted with Blake's illustrations to the Book 
of Job will remember what effects, sublime and appalling, 
the artist produces by animating a group of figures with 
one common passion, which spontaneously produces in 
each individual the same extravagant movement of head 
and limbs. 

1 82 Shakspere — His Mind and Art. 

The dsemonic intensity which distinguishes the play 
proceeds from the character of Richard, as from its source 
and centre. As with the chief personages of Marlowe's 
plays, so Richard in this play rather occupies the 
imagination by audacity and force, than insinuates him- 
self through some subtle solvent, some magic and 
mystery of art. His character does not grow upon us ; 
from the first it is complete. We are not curious to 
discover what Richard is, as we are curious to come into 
presence of the soul of Hamlet. We are in no doubt 
about Richard ; but it yields us a strong sensation to 
observe him in various circumstances and situations ; we 
are roused and animated by the presence of almost 
superhuman energy and power, even though that power 
and that energy be malign. 

Coleridge has said of Ridhard that pride of intellect is 
his characteristic. This is true, but his dominant char- 
acteristic is not intellectual ; it is rather a dsemonic 
energy of will. The same cause which produces tempest 
and shipwreck produces Richard ; he is a ^erce elemental 
power raging through the world ; but this elemental 
power is concentrated in a human will. The need of 
action is with Richanrd an appetite to which all the 
other appetites are subordinate. He requires space in 
the world to bustle in ; his will must wreak itself on 
men and things. All that is done in the play proceeds 
from Richard ; there is, as has been observed by Mr 
Hudson, no interaction. " The drama is not so much a 
composition of co-operative characters, mutually develop- 
ing and developed, as the prolonged yet hurried outcome 
of a single character, to which the other persons serve 

The English Historical Plays. 183 

but as exponents and conductors ; as if he were a volume 
of electricity disclosing himself by means of others, and 
quenching their active powers in the very process of 
^ doing so." * 

Richard with his distorted and withered body, 
his arm shrunk like "a blasted sapling," is yet a 
sublime figure by virtue of his energy of will and 
tremendous power of intellect. All obstacles give way 
before him ; — the courage of men, and the bitter 
animosity of women. And Richard haa a passionate 
scorn of men, because they are weaker and more obtuse 
than he, the deformed outcast of nature. He practises 
hypocrisy not merely for the sake of success, but because 
his hypocrisy is a cynical jest, or a gross insult to 
humanity. The Mayor of London has a bourgeois 
veneration for piety and established forms of religion. 
Richard advances to meet him reading a book of prayers, 
and supported on each side by a bishop. The grim 
joke, the contemptuous • insult to the citizen faith in 
church and king, flatters his malignant sense of power. 
To cheat a gull, a coarse hypocrisy suflSces."!'. . . 

Towards his tool Buckingham, when occasions suits, 
Richard can be frankly contemptuoua Buckingham is 
unable to keep pace with Richard in his headlong 
career ; he falls behind and is scant of breath : 

* S.. N. Hudson, Sliakespeare, his life, Art^and Characters, vol. iL, 
p. 156. 

t The plan originates with Buckingham, but Bichard plays his part 
with manifest delight. Shakspere had no historical authority for the 
presence of the Bishops. See Skottowe's life of Shakspeare, vol. L, pp. 

1 84 Shakspere — His Mind and Art. 

The deep-revolyisg, witty Buckingham 
No more shall be the neighbour to my counsel ; 
Hath he so long held out with me untir'd 
* And stops he now for breath ? 

The Duke, " his other self, his counseFs consistory, 
his oracle, his prophet," comes before the king claiming 
the fulfilment of a promise, that he should receive the 
Earldom of Hereford. Richard becomes suddenly deaf, 
and, contemptuously disregarding the interpellations of 
Buckingham, continues his talk on indifferent matters. 
At length he turns to " his other self : " — 

Bvck, My lord ! 

K.Rich. Ay, what's o'clock? 

Buck, I am thus bold to put your Grace in mind 

Of what you promised me. 
K. Rich. Well, but what's o'clock ? 

Buck. Upon the stroke of ten. 
K. Rich. Well, let it strike. 

Buck. Why let it strike ? 
K. Rich. Because that like a Jack thou keep'st the stroke 

Betwixt thy begging and my meditation. 

I am not in the giving vein to-day. 

Richard's cynicism and insolence have in them a kind of 
grim mirth ; such a bonhomie as might be met with 
among the humourists of Pandemonium. His brutality 
is a manner of joking with a purpose. When his 
mother, with Queen Elizabeth, comes by " copious in 
exclaims,'' ready to " smother her damned son in the 
breath of bitter words," the mirthfiil Richard calls for a 
flourish of trumpets to drown these shrill female voices : 

A flourish trumpets I strike alarum, drums I 
Let not the heavens hear these tell-tale women 
Rail on the Lord's anointed. Strike, I say ! 

On an occasion when hypocrisy is more serviceable 

The English Historical Plays. 1 8 5 

than brutality, Richard kneels to implore his mother's 
blessing, but has a characteristic word of contemptuous 
impiety to utter aside : 

Duchess, God bless thee and put meekness in thy breast, 
Loye, charity, obedience, and trae duty. 

Richard, Amen ! and make me die a good old man ! 
That is the h^tfc»^H of a mother's blessing ; 
I marvel that her grace did leaye it out. 

He plays his part before his future wife, the Lady 
Anne, laying open his breast to the sword's point with a 
malicious confidence. He knows the measure of woman's 
frailty, and relies on the spiritual force of his audacity 
and dissimulation to subdue the weak hand, which tries 
to lift the sword. With no friends to back his suit, 
with nothing but " the plain devil, and dissembling 
looks," he wins his bride. The hideous ironj^ of such a 
courtship, the mockery it implies of human love is 
enough to make a man ** your only jigmaker," and sends 
Richard's blood dancing along his veins. 

While Richard is plotting for the crown. Lord Hastings 
threatens to prove an obstacle in the way. What is to 
be done ? Buckingham is dubious and tentative : 

Now, my lord, what shall we do, if we perceive 
Lord Hastings will not yield to our complots ? 

With sharp detonation, quickly begun and quickly over, 
Richard's answer is discharged, " Chop off his head, man." 
There can be no beginning, middle, or end to a deed so 
simple and so summary. Presently Hastings making sundry 
small assignations for future days and weeks, goes, a mur- 
dered man, to the conference at the Tower. Richard, whose 
startling figure emerges from the background throughout 

1 86 Shakspere—His Mind and A rt, 

the play with small regard for verisimilitude and always 
at the most eflFective moment, is suddenly on the spot, 
just as Hastings is about to give his voice in the con- 
ference as though he were the representative of the 
absent Duke. Richard is prepared, when the opportune 
instant has arrived, to spring a mine under Hastings* 
feet. But meanwhile a matter of equal importance 
concerns him, — ^my Lord of Ely's strawberries : the 
flavour of Holbom strawberries is exquisite, and the fruit 
must be sent for. Richard's desire to appear disengaged 
from sinister thought is less important to note than 
Richard's need of indulging a cynical contempt of human 
life. The explosion takes place ; Hastings is seized ; 
and the delicacies are reserved until the head of 
Richard's enemy is oflf. There is a wantonness of 
diablerie in this incident : 

Talk'st thou to me of i/s t Thou art a traitor — 
Off with his head I Now by Saint Paul I swear 
I will not dine until I see the same.* 

The fiery energy of Richard is at its simplest, un- 
mingled with irony or dissimulation in great days of 
military movement and of battle. Then the force 
within him expends itself in a paroxysm which has all 
the intensity of ungovernable spasmodic action, and 
which is yet organised and controlled by his intellect. 
Then he is engaged at his truest devotions, and numbers 
his Ave-Maries, not with beads but with ringing strokes 
upon the helmets of his foes.-f- He is inspired with 

• This scene, including the incident of the dish of Btrawberries, is 
from Sir T. More's history. See Courtenay's Conmientaries on Shake- 
apeare, vol. ii, pp. 84-87. 

+ 3 Henry vL, Act ii., Scene L 

The English Historical Plays, 187 

" the spleen of fiery dragons ; " " a thousand hearts are 
great within his bosom." On the eve of the battle of 
Bosworth field, Richard, with uncontrollable eagerness, 
urges his enquiry into the minutise of preparation which 
may ensure success. He lacks his usual alacrity of 
spirit, yet a dozen subalterns would hardly suflSce to 
receive the orders which he rapidly enunciates. He is 
upon the wing of " fiery expedition : " 

I will not sup to-night. Give me some ink and paper. 

What, is my beaver easier than it was ? 

And all my armour laid within my tent? 
Cateshy, It is, my liege, and all things are in readiness. 
K, Rich, Good Norfolk, hie thee to thy charge ; 

Use careful watch, choose trusty sentinels. 
Norfolk. I go, my lord. 

K, Rich. Stir with the lark to-morrow, gentle Norfolk. 
Nwfolk. I warrant you, my lord. 
K. Rich. Catesby ! 
Catesby. My Lord? 

K. Rich. Send out a pursuivant at arms 

To Stanley^s regiment ; bid him bring his power 

Before sun-rising, lest his son George fall 

Into the blind cave of eternal night. 

Fill me a bowl of wine. Give me a watch. 

[Exit Cateshy. 

Saddle White Surrey for the field to-morrow. 

Look that my staves be sound, and not too heavy, 

RatcMI ' 

And learning from Ratcliff, that Northumberland 
and Surrey are alert, giving his last direction that his 
attendant should return at midnight to help him to arm, 
King Richard retires into his tent. 

In all his military movements, as in the whole 
of Richard's career, there is something else than 
self-seeking. It is true that Richard, like Ed- 

1 88 Shakspere — His Mind and Art. 

mund, like lago, is solitary ; he has no friend, no 
brother ; " I am myself alone ; " and all that Richard 
achieves tends to his own supremacy. Neverthe- 
less, the central characteristic of Richard is not self- 
seeking or ambition. It is the necessity of releasing 
and letting loose upon the worid the force within him 
(mere force in which there is nothing moral), the 
necessity of deploying before himself and others the 
terrible resources of his will. One human tie Shakspere 
attributes to Richard ; contemptuous to his mother, 
indifferent to the life or death of Clarence and Edward, 
except as their life or death may serve his own attempt 
upon the crown, cynically loveless towards his feeble and 
unhappy wife, Richard admires with an enthusiastic 
admiration his great father : 

Metbinks 'tis prize enough to be his son. 
And the memory of his father supplies him with a 
family pride which, however, does not imply attachment 
or loyalty to any member of his house. 

But I was born so high ; 
Our aery buildeth in the cedar's top, 
And dallies with the wind and scorns the sun. 

History supplied Shakspere with the figure of his 

Richard. He has been accused of darkening the colours, 

and exaggerating the deformity of the character of the 

historical Richard found in More and Halinshed. The 

fact is precisely the contrary. The mythic Richard of 

the historians (and there must have been some appalling 

fact to originate such a myth) is made somewhat less 

grim and bloody by the dramatist.* Essentially, how- 

* See the detailed study of this play by W. Oechelhauser in Jahr- 
buch der Deutschen Shakespeare-Gesellschaft, voL iii. pp. 37-39, and 

The English Historical Plays. 1 89 

ever, Sbakspere's Richard is of the diabolical, (something 
more dreadful than the criminal) class. He is not weak, * 
because he is single-hearted in his devotion to evil. 
Richard does not serve two masters. He is not like 
John, a dastardly criminal ; he is not like Macbeth, joy- 
less and faithless because he has deserted loyalty and 
honour. He has a fierce joy, and he is an intense be- 
liever, — ^in the creed of helL And therefore he is strong. 
He inverts the moral order of things, and tries to live in 
this inverted system. He does not succeed ; he dashes 
himself to pieces against the laws of the world which he 
has outraged. Yet, while John is wholly despicable, we 
cannot refrain from yielding a certain tribute of admira- 
tion to the bolder malefactor, who ventures on the daring 
experiment of choosing evil for his good. 

Such an experiment, Shakspere declares emphatically, 
as experience and history declare, must in the end fail. » 
The ghosts of the usurper's victims rise between the 
camps, and are to Richard the Erinnyes, to Richmond 
inspirers of hope and victorious courage. At length 
Richard trembles on the brink of annihilation, trembles 
over the loveless gulf : — 

I shall despair ; there is no creature loves me ; 

And if I die, no soul shall pity me. 

pp. 47, 53. Holinshed's treatment of the character of Richard is hardly 
in harmony with itself. From the death of Edward IV. onwards the 
Richard of Holinshed resembles Shakupere's Richard, but possesses 
fainter traces of humanity. '^Wenn hiemach also thatsachlich zwei 
Holinshed'sche Versionen des Charakters und der Handlungen Rich- 
ard's vorliegen, so hat Shakespeare allerdings die anf More basirte also 
die schwarzere gewahlt ; liber diese ist er aber nicht, wie so vielfach 
behauptet wird, hinausgegangen, sondem er hat sie sogar gemildert, hat 
die Faden, welche das Ungeheuer noch mit der Menschheit verknUpfen, 
verstarkt, statt sie gan2 zu loien.^' 

1 90 Shakspere — His Mind and Art. 

But the stir of battle regtocgs him to resolute thoughts, 
" Come, bustle, bustl ^capar isQ)! my horse," and he dies 
in a fierce paroxysm of action. Richmond conquers, and 
he conquers expressly as the champion and representative 
of the moral order of the world, which Richard had en- 
deavoured to set aside : — 

Thou, whose captain I accoant myself, 
Look oD ray forces with a gracious eye ; 
Put in their hands thy bruising irons of wrath, 
That they may crush down witha heavy fall 
The usurping helmets of our adversaries ! 
Make us thy ministers of chastisement, 
That we may praise thee in thy victory. 

The female figures of this play, — Queen Elizabeth, 
Queen Margaret, the Duchess of York, the Lady Anne ; 
and with these the women of Shakspere's other historical 
plays, would form an interesting subject for a separate 
study. The women of the histories do not attain the 
best happiness of women. In the rough struggle of in- 
terests, of parties, of nations, they are defrauded of their 
joy, and of its objects. Like Constance, like Elizabeth, 
like Margaret, lifee^ the Queen of the Second Richard, 
like Katharine of Arragon, they mourn some the loss of 
children, some of husbands, some of brothers, and all of 
love. Or else, like Harry Perc/s wife (who also lives 
to lament her husband's death, and to tremble for her 
father's fate),* they are the wives of men of action to 
whom they are dear, but " in sort or limitation," dwell- 
ing but in the suburbs of their husbands' good-pleasure. 

To keep with you at meals, comfort your bed, 
And talk with you sometimes. 

* See the pathetic scene, 2 Henry IV., Act ii., scene 3. 

The English Historical Plays, 1 9 1 

The wooing of the French Katharine by King Henry 
V. is business-like, and soundly affectionate, but by no 
means of the kind which ia most satisfying to the heart 
of a sensitive or ardent woman. That Shakspere him* 
self loved in another fashion than that of Hotspur or 
Henry might be inferred, if no other suflBcient evidence 
were forthcoming, from the admirable mockery of thd 
love given by men of letters, and men of imagination — 
poets in chief — which he puts into Henry's mouth. 
" And while thou livest, dear Kate, take a fellow of plain 
and uncoined constancy ; for he perforce must do thee 
right, because he hath not the gift to woo in other places ; 
for these fellows of infinite tongue, that can rhyme 
themselves into ladies' favours, they do always reason 
themselves out again." Was this a skit by Shakspere 
against himself, or against an interpretation of himself 
for which he perceived there was a good deal to be said, 
from a point of view other than his own ? While the 
poet was buying up land near Stratford, he could de- 
scribe his courtier Osric as " very spacious in the pos- 
session of dirt." Is this a piece of irony similar in 
kind ? 

The figure of Queen Margaret is painfully persistent 
upon the mind's eye, and tyrannises, almost as much as 
the figure of King Richard himself, over the imagination. 
" Although banished upon pain of death, she returns to 
England to assist at the intestine conflicts of the House 
of York. Shakspere personifies in her the ancient 
Nemesis ; he gives her more than human proportions, 
and represents her as a sort of supernatural apparition. 
She penetrates freely into the palace of Edward IV., she 

192 Shakspere — His Mind and Art. 

there breathes forth her hatred in presence of the family 
of York, and its courtier attendants. No one dreams of 
arresting her, although she is an exiled woman, and she 
goes forth, meeting no obstacle, as she had entered. 
The same magic ring, which on the first occasion opened 
the doors of the royal mansion, opens them for her once 
again, when Edward lY. is dead, and his sons have been 
assassinated in the Tower by the order of Richard. She 
came, the first time, to curse her enemies ; she comes 
now to gather the fiiiits of her malediction. Like an 
avenging Fury, or the classical Fate, she has announced 
to each his doom." * 

The play must not be dismissed without one word 
spoken of King Edward lY. He did not interest the 
imagination of Shakspere. Edward is the self-indulgent, 
luxurious king. The one thing which Shakspere cared 
to say about him was, that his pleasant delusion of peace- 
making shortly before his death, was a poor and insuffi- 
cient compensation for a life spent in ease and luxury 
rather than in laying the hard and strong bases of a sub- 
stantial peace. A few soft words, and placing of hands 
in hands will not repair the ravage of fierce years, and 
the decay of sound human bonds during soft, effeminate 
years. Just as the peace-making is perfect, Richard is 
present on the scene : — 

There wanteth now our brother Gloeter here 
To make the blessed period of our peace. 

And Qloster stands before the dying king to announce 
that Clarence lies murdered in the Tower. This is 

* A. M^zi^res, Shakespeare, ses (Eavres et ses Critiques, p. 139. 

The English Historical Plays. 193 

Shakspere's comment upon and condemnation of the 
self-indnlgent king.* 


The play of King Richard II. possesses none of the 
titanic stormy force which breathes through King Richard 
III., but in delicate cunning in the rendering of charac- 
ter it excels the more popular play. The two principal 
figures in King Richard IL, that of the king who fell, 
and that of the king who rose — the usurping Boling- 
broke — ^grow before us insensibly through a series of fine 
and characteristic strokes. They do not, like the figures 
in King Richard III., forcibly possess themselves of our 
imagination, but engage it before it is aware, and by de- 
grees advance stronger claims upon us, and make good 
those claims. It will be worth while to try to ascertain 
what Shakspere looked upon as most significant in the 
characters of these two royal persons, — ^the weak king 
who could not rule, and the strong king who pressed 
him from his place. 

There is a condition of the intellect which we describe 
by the word " boyishness." The mind in the boyish 
stage of growth " has no discriminating convictions, and 
no grasp of consequences." It has not as yet got hold 
of realities ; it is " merely dazzled by phenomena instead 
of perceiving things as they are." The talk of a person 

* Otto Lndwig notices the ideal treatment of time in Kmg Richard 
III. But does it differ from the treatment of time in other hiBtorical 
plays of Shakspere ? '* Wie in keinem anderen seiner Stttcke die Bege- 
benheiten gewaltsamer zosammengerttckt sind, Ao ist auch in keinem 
anderen die Zeit so ideal behandelt als hier. Hier giebt es kein Oes- 
tem, kein Morgen, keine Uhr, nnd keinen Ealendar." — Shakespeare- 
Stndien, pp. 46<M51. 


1 94 Shakspere — His Mind and Art 

who remains in this sense boyish is often clever, but it 
is unreal ; now he will say brilliant things upon this side 
of a question, and now upon the opposite side. He has 
no consistency of view. He is wanting as yet in serious- 
ness of intellect ; in the adult mind.* Now if we extend 
this characteristic of boyishness, from the intellect to the 
« entire character, we may imderstand much of what Shak- 
spere meant to represent in the person of Richard II. 
Not alone his intellect, but his feelings, live in the world 
of phenomena, and altogether fail to lay hold of things 
as they are ; they have no consistency and no continuity. 
His wiU is entirely unformed ; it possesses no authority 
and no executive power ; he is at the mercy of every 
chance impidse and transitory mood. He has a kind of 
artistic relation to life^ without being an artist. An 
artist in life seizes upon the stu£f of circumstauce, and 
with strenuous will, and strong creative power, shapes 
some new and noble form of human existence. 

Bichard, to whom sJl things are unreal, has a fine feel- 
ing for "situations." Without any of true kingly strength 
or dignity, he has a fine feeling for the royal situation. 
Without any making real to himself what Qod or what 
death is, he can put himself, if need be, in the appro- 
priate attitude towards Qod and towards death. Instead 
of comprehending things as they are, and achieving 
heroic deeds, he satiates his heart with the grace, the 
tenderness, the beauty, or the pathos of situations. Life 
is to Richard a show, a succession of images ; and to put 
himself into accord with the sesthetic requirements of his 
position is Richard's first necessity. He is equal to 
* John Henry Isewman. Idea of a ITnivenity— Fre&oe. 

The English Historical Plays, 195 

playing any part gracefully which he is called upon by 
circumstances to enact But when he has exhausted the * 
aesthetic satisfaction to be derived from the situations of 
his life^ he is left with nothing further to do. He is an 
amateur in living ; not an artist.* 

Nothing had disturbed the graceful dream of Richard's 
adolescence* The son of the Black Prince, beautiful in 
face and form, though now past his youth, a king since 
boyhood, he has known no antagonism of men or cir- 
cumstance which might arouse the will He has an 
indescribable charm of person and presence ; Hotspur 
remembers him as "Richard, that sweet, lovely rose." 
But a king who rules a discontented people and turbulent 
nobles needs to be something more than a beautiful 
blossoming flower. Richard has abandoned his nature 
to self-indulgence, and therefore the world becomes to 
him more unreal than ever. He has been surrounded 
by flatterers, who helped to make his atmosphere a 
luminous mist, through which the facts of Ufe appeared 
with all their ragged outlines smoothed away. In the 
first scene of the play he enacts the part of a king with 
a fine show of dignity ; his bearing is splendid and irre- 
proachable. Mowbray is obstinate, and wiU not throw 
down the gage of Bolingbroke ; Richard exclaims : — 

Rage must be withstood : 
Give me liis gage: lions make leopards tame. 

* Die guten EigenflchAften seiner Natnr werden xhm Tumiltz, ja 
gefalirlich ; er gewarht das erschUttemde Schatxspiel eines beispiellosen, 
geistigen and gemtithlichen nicht weniger als aosserlichen Bankerutts 
in Folge des einen tJmstandes — dass die Nator ihn mit einem Dilet- 
tanten^a|aoter aof eine Stelle berufen, die mehr als jede andere einen 
EUnstler fqR^ert. Kreyssig Vorlesongen liber Shakespeare (ed. 1874), 
YoL L, p. 189. See what follows on Richard's << Dilettantismiis." 

1 96 Shakspere — His Mind and Art. 

But Mowbray retains the gage. " We were not bom to 
sue, but to command," declares Richard with royal 
majesty ; yet he admits that to command exceeds his 
power. What of that ? Has not Richard borne him- 
self splendidly, and uttered himself in a royal metaphor : 
"Lions make leopards tame ?" 

At this very moment Bolingbroke, with eye set 
upon his purpose afar off, has resolutely taken the 
first step towards attaining it. The challenge of 
Mowbray conceals a deeper purpose. So little does 
Bolingbroke really feel of hostility to his anta- 
gonist, that one of his first acts, as soon as he is in a 
position to act with authority, is to declare Mowbray's 
repeal.* But to stand forward as champion of the 
wrongs of England, to make himself the eminent justi- 
ciary by right of nature, this is the initial step towards 
future kingship ; and Bolingbroke perceives clearly that 
the fact of Qloster's death may serve as fulcrum for the 
lever which is to shake the throne of England. Nor 
is the King quite insensible of the tendency of his cousin's 
action. Already he begins to quail before his bold anta- 
gonist : 

How high a pitch his reBolatdon soars. 

Richard tries gracefully to conceal his discomposure, and 
to deceive Bolingbroke ; but he is not, like Richard the 
hunchback, a daring and eflSdent hypocrite. He betrays 
his weakness and his distrust, administering to the two 
men decreed to exile an oath which pledges them never to 

* KreyBsig suggests that this piece of magnanimity was z^ally a 
piece of fine hypocrisy 5 Bolingbroke was perhaps aware of Norfolk's 
death at the time that he gave order for his repeaL 

The English Historical Plays. 197 

reconcfle themselves in their banishment, and never to 
plot against their king. 

Bolingbroke accepts his exile, parts from the English 
crowd with an air of gracious, condescending familiarity, 
which flatters (whereas Richard's undignified familiarity 
only displeases),* and bids farewell to his country as a 
son bids farewell to the mother with whom his natural 
loyalty remains, and whom, in due time, he will see 
again. John of Gaunt is lying on his death-bed. The 
last of the great race of the time of Edward IIL, no 
English spirit will breathe such patriotism as his until 
the days of Agincourt With the prophetic inspiration 
of a dying man he dares to warn his grand-nephew, and 
to rebuke him for his treason against the ancient honour 
of England. Richard, who, with his characteristic sensi- 
bility of a superficial kind, turns pale as he listens, re- 
covers himself by a transition from overawed aleurm to 
boyish insolence. The white-haired warrior, now a pro- 
phet, who lies dying before him, is 

A lunatic, leiui-witted fool, 
PreBoming on an ague's privily, 

who dares with a frozen admonition to make pale the 
royal cheek of Richard. The facts are very disagreeable, 

* The flkipping King, he ambled up and down 
With shallow jesters and rash bavin wits, 
Soon kindled and soon bnmt ; carded his state, 
Mingled his royalty with capering fools, 

Grew a companion to the common streets, 
llias Henry IV. describes his predecessor as a lesson to Prince Henry, 
whose familiarity with his fntnre subjects is neither in his father's 
manner, nor in that of Richard IL 

198 Shdkspere — His Mind and A rt. 

and why should a king admit into his consciousness an 
Ugly or disagreeable fact ? 

By and by, being informed that John of Qaunt is 
dead, Richard has the most graceful and appropriate 
word ready for so solemn an occasion: 

The ripest fruit first falls, and so doth he; 
His time is spent, our pilgrimage must be. 

In which pilgrimage the first step is to seize upon 

The plate, coin, revenues, and moveables, 
Whereof our uncle Gaunt did stand poBsesBed. 

Even York, the temporising York, who would fain be 
all things to all men if by any means he might save 
himself, is amazed, and ventures to remonstrate against 
the criminal folly of this act. But Richard, like all self- 
indulgent natures, has only a half belief in any possible 
future ; he chooses to make the present time easy, and 
let the future provide for itself ; he has been living upon 
chances too long ; he has too long been mortgaging the 
health of to-morrow for the pleasure of to-day : 

Think what you will, we seize into our hands 
His plate, his goods, his money, and his lands. 

But now the tempest begins to sing. BoUngbroke 
(before he can possibly have heard of his father's death 
and the seizure by Richard of his own rights and 
royalties) has equipped an expedition, and is about to 
land upon the English coast. The King makes a hasty 
return from his " military promenade " in Ireland.* The 
first words of each, as he touches his native soil, are cha- 
racteristic, and were, doubtless, placed by Shakspere in 

* Fr. Ereysaig. Vorlesungen Uber Shakspeare^ roL L, p. 191. 

The English Historical Plays. J 99 

designed contrast. " How far i« i*, my ford, ix> Berkdey 

mowf" The banished man has no tender phrases to 

bestow upon English earth, now that he sets foot upon 

it once more. All his faculties are firm set, and bent 

upon achievement But Richard, who has been absent 

for a few days in Ireland, enters with all possible zeal 

into the sentiment of his situation : 

I weep for joy 
To stand upon my kingdom once again. 
Dear earth, I do aalnte thee with my hand, 
Though rebels wound thee with their horses' hoofs ; 
As a long-parted mother with her child 
Flays fondly with her tears and smiles in meeting, 
So weeping, smiling, greet I thee, my earth. 
And do thee favours with my royal hands. 

Which sentimental favours form a graceful incident in 
the play of Richard's life, but can hardly compensate the 
want of true and manly patriotism. This same earth 
which Richard caressed with extravagant sensibility was 
the England which John of Oaimt with strong enthu- 
siasm had apostrophised : 

This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England, 
This nurse, this teeming womb of royal kings, 
Feared by their breed, and famous for their birth, 
Renowned for their deeds. 

It was the England which Richard had alienated 
from himself and leased out '' like to a tenement or pelting 
farm."* What of that, however? Did not Richard ad- 
dress his England with phrases fiill of tender sensibility, 
and render her mockery f&vours with his royal hands ? 

BoUngbroke has already gained the support of the 
Welsh. Richard has upon his side powers higher than 
natural flesh and blood. Shall he not rise like the sun 

200 Shaksfiere — His Mind and Art. 

in the eastern sky, and with the majesty of his royal 
apparition scare away the treasons of the night ? Is he 
not the anointed deputy of God ? 

Not all the water in the rough nide aea 
Can wash the balm from an anointed king : 
The breath of worldly men cannot depose 
The deputy elected by the Lord. 

Yes ; he will rely on God ; it is devout ; it is not labo- 
rious. For every armed man who fights for BoUngbroke, 

God for his Richard hath in heavenly pay 
A glorious angeL 

And at this moment Salisbury enters to announce the 
revolt of Wales. Richard has been slack in action, and 
arrived a day too late. Remorseless comment upon the 
rhetorical piety of the King ! A company of angels 
fight upon his side; true, but the sturdy Welshmen 
stand for Bolingbroke ! He is the deputy elected by the 
Lord ; but the Lord's deputy has arrived a day too late ! 
And now Richard alternates between abject despond- 
ency (relieved by accepting all the aBsthetic satisfaction 
derivable from the situation of vanquished king) and an 
airy, unreal confidence. There is in Richard, as Cole- 
ridge has finely observed, " a constant overflow of emo- 
tions firom a total incapability of controlling them, and 
thence a waste of that energy, which should have been 
reserved for actions, in the passion and eflbrt of mere 
resolves and menaces. The consequence is moral ex- 
haustion and rapid alternations of unmanly despair and 
ungrounded hope, every feeling being abandoned for its 
direct opposite upon the pressure of external accident." * 
* Lectures upon Shakespeare (ed. 1849), vol. i., p. 178, 

The English Historical Plays. 201 

A certain unreality infects every emotion of Richard ; his 

feelings are but the shadows of true feeling. Now he 

will be great and a king ; now what matters it to lose a 

kingdom? If Bolingbroke and he alike serve God, 

Bolingbroke can be no more than his fellow-servant. 

Now he plays the wanton with his pride, and now with 

his misery: 

Of comfort no man speak : 
Let^B talk of graves, of worms and epitaphs; 

For God's sake, let us sit upon the ground 
And tell sad stories of the death of kings. 

At one moment he pictures God mustering armies of 
pestilence in his clouds to strike the usurper and his 
descendants ; in the next he yields to Bolingbroke's de- 
mands, and welcomes his " right noble cousin." He is 
proud, and he is pious ; he is courageous and cowardly ; 
and pride and piety, cowardice and courage, are all the 
passions of a dream. 

Yet Shakspere has thrown over the figure of Richard 
a certain atmosphere of charm. If only the world were 
not a real world, to which serious hearts are due, we 
could find in Richard some wavering, vague attraction. 
There is a certain wistfulness about him ; without any 
genuine kingly power, he has a feeling for what kingly 
power must be ; without any veritable religion, he has a 
pale shadow of religiosity. And few of us have our- 
selves wholly escaped from unreality. " It takes a long 
time really to feel and understand things as they are ; 
we learn to do so only gradually." * Into what glim- 

* John H. Newman. Parochial and Plain Sermons. " Unreal 
Words," vol. v., p. 43. 

202 Skakspere — His Mind and Art 

mering limbo will such a soul as tliat of RicIiaTd pass 
when the breath leaves the body? The pains of hell 
and the joys of heaven belong to those who have serious 
hearts. Richard has been a graceful phantom. Is there 
some tenuous, unsubstantial world of spirits reserved for 
the sentimentalist, the dreamer, and the dilettante? 
Bichard is, as it were, fading out of existence. Boling- 
broke seems not only to ha,ve robbed him of his autho- 
rity, but to have encroached upon his very personality, 
and to have usurped his understanding and his will. 
Bichard is discovering that he is no more than a shadow; 
but the discovery itself has something unreal and shadowy 
about it. Is not some such fact as this symbolised by 
the incident of the mirror ? Before he quite ceases to 
I be king, Bichard, with his taste for " pseudo-poetic 
pathos," * would once more look upon the image of his 
face, and see what wrinkles have been traced upon it by 
sorrow. And Bolingbroke, suppressing his inward feel- 
ing of disdain, directs that the mirror be brought. Bichard 
gazes against it, and finds that sorrow has wrought no 
change upon the beautiful lips and forehead. And then 


A brittle glory Bhineth in this face, 
Ab brittle as the glory is the face. 

he dashes the glass against the ground. 

For there it is crack'd in a hundred shivers. 

Mark, silent King, the moral of this sport, 

How soon my sorrow hath destroyed my face. 
Bolxng, The shadow of your sorrow hath destroyed 

The shadow of your face. 
K. Rich. Say that again. 

The shadow of my sorrow ! ha I leVs see. 

* Ereyssig. 

The English Historical Plays, 203 

Does Richard, as Professor Flathe (contemptaously 
dismissing the criticisms of Gervinus and of Ejreyssig) 
maintains, rise morally from his humiliation as a king ? 
Is he heartily sorry for his misdoings ? While drinking 
the wine and eating the bread of sorrow, does he truly 
and earnestly repent, and intend to lead a new life ? 
The habit of his nature is not so quickly unlearnt 
Richard in prison remains the same person as Richard 
on the throne. Calamity is no more real to him now 
than prosperity had been in brighter days. The soliloquy 
of Richard in Pomfret Castle (Act V., Scene 5) might 
almost be transferred, as fSax as tone and manner are con- 
cerned, to one other personage in Shakspefe's plays — to 
Jacques. The curious intellect of Jacques gives him his 
distinction. He plays his parts for the sake of under- 
standing the world in his way of superficial fool's-wisdom. 
Richard plays his parts to possess himself of the sesthetic 
satisfaction of an amateur in life, with a fine feeling for * 
situations. But each lives in* the world of shadow, in 
the world of mockery wisdom, or the world of mockery 
passion. Mr Hudson is right when he says, " Richard 
is so steeped in voluptuous habits that he must needs be 
a voluptuary even in his sorrow, and make a luxury of 
woe itself; pleasure has so thoroughly mastered his 
spirit, that he cannot think of bearing pain as a duty or 
an honour, but merely as a license for the pleasure of 
maudlin self-compassion; so he hangs over his griefs, 
hugs them, nurses them, buries himself in them, as if 
the sweet agony thereof were to him a glad refuge from 
the stings of self-reproach, or a dear release from the 
exercise of manly thought." * 

* Rbalupere : his Life, Arfc and Character^ vol. iL, p. 65. 

204 Shakspere — His Mind and Art. 

Yet to the last a little of real love is reserved 
by one heart or two for the shadowy, attractive 
Richard; the love of a wife who is filled with a 
piteous sense of her husband's mental and moral efface- 
ment, seeing her '* fair rose wither," and the love of a 
groom whose loyalty to his master is associated with 
loyalty to his master s horse, roan Barbary. This inci- 
dent of roan Barbary is an invention of the poet. Did 
Shakspere intend only a little bit of helpless pathos ? 
Or is there a touch of hidden irony here ? A poor spark 
of affection remains for Richard, but it has been kindled 
half by Richard, and half by Richard's horse. The fancy 
of the fallen king disports itself for the last time, and 
hangs its latest wreath around this incident. Then sud- 
denly comes the darkness. Suddenly the hectic passion 
of Richard flares ; he snatches an axe from a servant, 
and deals about him deadly blows. In another moment 
he is extinct ; the graceful futile existence has ceased. 


Bolingbroke utters few words in the play of Richard II. ; 
yet we feel that from the first the chief force centres in 
him. He possesses every element of power except those 
which are spontaneous and unconscious. He is dauntless, 
but his courage is under the control of his judgment; it 
never becomes a glorious martial rage like that of the 
Greek Achilles, or like that of the English Henry, 
Bolingbroke's son. He is ambitious, but his ambition is 
not an inordinate desire to wreak his will upon the 
world, and expend a fiery energy like that of Richard 
III. ; it is an ambition whidi aims at definite ends, and 

The English Historical Plays. 205 

can be held in reserve until these seem attainable. He 
is studious to obtain the good graces of nobles and of 
people, and he succeeds because, wedded to his end, he 
does not become impatient of the means ; but he is 
wholly lacking in genius of the heart ; and therefore he 
obtains the love of no man. He is indeed formidable ; 
his enemies describe England as 

A bleeding land, 
Gasping for life under great Bolingbroke ; 

and he is aware of his strength ; but there is in his 
nature no fund of incalculable strength of which he can- 
not be aware. All his faculties are well-organized, and 
help one another ; he is embarrassed by no throng of 
conflicting desires or sympathies. He is resolved to 
win the throne, and has no personal hostility to the king 
to divide or waste his energies; only a little of contempt. 
In the deposition scene he gives as little pain as may 
be to Richard ; he controls and checks Northimiberland, 
who irritates and excites the king by requiring him to 
read the articles of his accusation. Because Bolingbroke 
is strong, he is not cruel.* He decides when to augment 
his power by clemency, and when by severity. Aumerle 
he can pardon, who will live to fight and fall gallantly 
for Henry's son at Agincourt. He can dismiss to a 
dignified retreat the Bishop, who, loyal to the hereditary 
principle, had pleaded against Henry's title to the throne. 
But Bushy, Green, and such like caterpillars of the 
Commonwealth, Henry has sworn to weed and pluck 

* M^^res. Shakspeare see (Envres et sea Gritiquefl, p. 205. Ereyasig 
Vorleaungen Uber Shakespeare, yoL i, p. 194 (ed. 1874). 

2o6 Shakspere — His Mind and Art. 

away. And when he pardons Aumerle he sternly 
decrees to death his own brother-in-law. 

The honour of England he cherished not with pas- 
sionate devotion^ but with a strong considerate care^ as 
though it were his own honour. There is nothing 
infinite in the character of Henry, but his is a strong 
finite character. When he has attained the object of 
his ambition he is still aspiring, but he does not aspire 
towards anything higher and further than that which 
he had set before him; his ambition is now to hold 
firmly that which he has energetically grasped. He tries 
to control England as he controlled roan Barbary : 

Great Bolingbroke, 
Mounted npon a hot and fiery steed, 
Which his aspiring rider seemed to know, 
With slow but stately pace kept on his oonrae. 

"Even in his policy," Mr Hudson has truly said, 
" there was much of the breadth and largeness which dis- 
tinguished the statesman from the politician.** He can 
conceive beforehand with practical imaginative faculty 
the exigencies of a case, and provide for them. Of 
Richard's hectic fancy (which must not be mistaken for 
imagination) Henry has none. Nor does he ever unpack 
his heart with words. Aiming at things, his words are 
right and efficient without aiming. In the scene of 
Richard's deposition, while the king is setting his fancy 
to work in making arabesques out of all the details of 
the situation, Bolingbroke does not become impatient. 
The wound which he inflicts on Richard must of course 
suppurate. " I thought you had been willing to resign." 
" Are you contented to resign the crown ? " With these 

The English Historical Plays. 207 

brief and decisive sentences Heniy calmly urges his 
point In a later scene, where Aumerle has flung him- 
self before the king and confessed his treason, while 
York, who speedily transferred all his loyalty from 
the deposed prince to his successor, pleads eagerly 
against his son, and the duchess on her knees implores 
his pardon, Henry allows the passionate flood to foam 
about his feet. He has resolved upon his part, and 
knows that in a little while he can allay this 
tempest " Rise up, good aunt," " Good aunt, rise up," 
" Good aunt, stand up," — ^these words, uttered in each 
pause of the passionate appeal, are all that Henry has at 
first to say ; and then the traitor is forgiven, and a loyal 
subject gained for ever. "I pardon him as God will 
pardon me ; " " With all my heart I pardon him." 

Yet the success of Bolingbroke, — ^although he suc- 
ceeded to the full measure of his powers and lost no 
point of advantage by laxness or self-indulgence — was 
not a complete achievement. When a little before his 
death his heart was at last set right with his son's heart, 
he could confess : — 

God knows, my son, 
By what by-paths and indirect crooked ways 
I met this crown, and I myself know well 
How troablesome it sat upon my head. 
To thee it shall descend with better quiet, 
Better opinion, better confirmation.* 

* 2 Henry IV., Act iy.. Scene 5. Of the King in this scene, Mr 
Hudson says well, " Though we have indeed his subtle policy, working 
out like a ruling passion strong in death, still its workings are suffused 
with gushes of right feeling, enough to show that he was not all 
politician ; that beneath his close-knit prudence there was a soul of 
moral sense, a kernel of religion." Shakespeare : his Life, Art, and 
Characters, vol. ii., p. 71. 

2o8 Shakspere — His Mind and Art 

By caution and by boldness he had won the crown, 
and held it resolutely. But his followers fell away ; the 
turbulent nobles of the north were in revolt, and there 
was a profound suspicion of the policy of the king. 
One son had reproduced the character of his father with- 
out the larger and finer features of that character. The 
other he could not understand, failing to discern, almost 
up to the last, the steadfast hidden loyalty and love 
of that son. It is hard for the free, spontaneous heart 
to disclose itself to the deliberate and cautious heart, 
which yet yearns pathetically for a child's affection. 
There is something piteously undisceming in the wish of 
the father of a Henry Y. that he might have been the 
father of a Hotspur. 

Then, too, his life never knew repose and refresh- 
ment The incessant care and labour of his mind 
went on day after day, night after night. He has 
no exultant faith in Qod, no strong reliance upon 
principles. Every ftiture contingency must be antici- 
pated and provided for by policy. Henry can never rid 
himself of cares ; can never for an hour let things be, 
and join in the wholesome laughter and frolic of the 
world. And accordingly, in spite of his energy and 
strenuous resolution, seasons of exhaustion and depression 
necessarily come. Sleep forsakes l^^ylr^ ; he summons his 
councillors at midnight ; he broods over the rank diseases 
that grow near the heart of his kingdom. He longs 
inexpressibly to read the secrets of ftiturity. He can 
hardly sustain himself from sinking into discouragement 
and languor : 

The English Historical Plays. 209 

OGod! that one might raul the book of fate, 

And see the reyolotion of the timeB 

Make mountains level, and the continent, 

Weary of solid firmness, melt itself 

Into the sea I and, other times, to see 

The beachy girdle of the ocean 

Too wide for Neptune's hips : how chances mock, 

And changes fill the cup of alteration 

With divers liquors ? 0, if this were seen, 

The happiest youth, viewing Mb progress through. 

What perils past, what crosses to ensue, 

Would shut the book, and sit him down and die. 

But the thought that such things as these are necessities 
of human life restores Henry to himself. " I am sworn 
brother, sweet, to grim Necessity," exclaimed King 
Richard II. to his queen, '' And he and I will keep a 
league till death." Henry does not personify Necessity, 
and greet it with this romantic display of fraternity ; but 
he admits the inevitable fact, and the fact is something 
to lay hold of firmly, a support and resting place, — some- 
thing which reanimates him for exertion. 

Are these things then necessHdes? 
Then let us meet them like necessities ; 
And that same word even now cries out on us : 
They say the Bishop and Northumberland 
Are fifty thousand strong. 

His faculties are firm-set and re-organised and go to work 
onoe more. 


Shakspere has judged Henry IV. and pronounced that 
his life was not a fiEuliure ; still it was at best a partial 
success. Shakspere saw, and he proceeded to show to 
others, that all which Bolingbroke had attained, and 


2 1 o Shakspere — His Mind and Art. 

aJmost incalculably greater possession of good things 
could be attained more joyously, by nobler means. The 
unmistakable enthusiasm of the poet about his Henry Y. 
has induced critics to believe that in him we find Shak- 
spere's ideal of manhood. He must certainly be regarded 
as Shakspere s ideal of manhood in the sphere of practi- 
cal achievement, — the hero, and central figure therefore 
of the historical plays. 

The fact has been noticed that with respect to Henry's 
youthful follies, Shakspere deviated from all authorities 
known to have been accessible to him. "An extra- 
ordinary conversion was generally thought to have fallen 
upon the Prince on coming to the crown, — ^insomuch that 
the old chroniclers could only account for the change by 
some miracle of grace or touch of supernatural benedic- 
tion." * Shakspere, it would seem, engaged now upon 
historical matter and not the fantastic substance of a 
comedy, found something incredible in the sudden trans- 
formation of a reckless libertine (the Henry described by 
Caxton, by Fabyan and others) into a character of 
majestic force, and large practical wisdom. Rather than 
reproduce this incredible popular tradition concerning 
Henry, Shakspere preferred to attempt the difiBcult task 
of exhibiting the Prince as a sharer in the wild frolic of 
youth, while at the same time he was holding hir- .: 
prepared for the splendid entrance upon his ^ • i. 
and stood really aloof in his inmost bein^ 
unworthy life of his associates. 

* Hndflon, <* Shakespe&re : hia Life, Art, and Characters," voL xL, 
p. *l%. See alflo C. Knight's Studies of Shakspere, B. iy., chap. iL, 
p. 164. 

The English Historical Plays. 2 1 1 

The change which effected itself in the Prince, as re- 
presented by Shakspere, was no miraculous conversion, 
but merely the transition from boyhood to adult years, 
and fit>m unchartered freedom to the solenm responsi- 
bilities of a great ruler. We must not suppose that 
Henry formed a deliberate plan for concealing the 
strength and splendour of his character, in order after- 
wards to flash forth upon men's sight and overwhelm 
and dazzle them. When he soliloquizes (1 Henry IV., 
Act i.. Scene 2), having bid farewell to Poins and 

I know yon all, and will awhile uphold 
The nnyoked humour of your idleness : 
Yet herein wiU I imitate the sun, 
Who doth permit the base contagious clouds 
To smother up his beauty from the world, 
That, when he please again to be himself, 
Being wanted, he may be more wondered at, 
By breaking through the foul and ugly mists 
Of vapours, that did seem to strangle him. 

— when Henry soliloquises thus, we are not to suppose 
that he was quite as wise and diplomatical as he pleased 
to represent himself, for the time being, to his own heart 
and conscience.* The Prince entered heartily and with- 
out reserve into the fun and frolic of his Eastcheap life ; 
the vigour and the folly of it were delightful; to be 
clapped on the back, and shouted for as " Hal," was far 
better than the doffing of caps and crooking of knees, 
and delicate, unreal phraseology of the court. But Henry, 
at the same time, kept himself from subjugation to what 
was really base. He could truthfully stand before his 

* Kreyssig. Yorlesnngen Uber Shakespeare (ed. 1874), yoI. L, p. 212. 
R. €len^ Shakespeare, sein Leben and seine Werke, p. 202. 

2 1 2 Shakspere — His Mind and Art 

father (1 Heniy lY., Act iiL, Scene 2), and maintain 
that his nature was substantially sound and untainted^ 
capable of redeeming itself finom all past, superficial dis- 

Has Shakspere erred ? Or is it not possible to take 
energetic part in a provisional life, which is known 
to be provisional, while at the same time a man holds 
his truest self in reserve for the life that is best, and 
highest, and most real ? May not the very conscious- 
ness, indeed, that such a life is provisional, enable one to 
• give oneself away to it, satisfying its demands with scru- 
pulous care, or with full and free enjoyment, as a man could 
not if it were a life which had any chance of engaging 
his whole personality, and that finally ? Is it possible 
to adjust two states of being, one temporary and provi- 
sional, the other absolute and final, and to pass freely 
out of one into the other ? Precisely because the one is 
perfect and indestructible, it does not fear the counter- 
life. May there not have been passages in Shakspere's 
own experience Which authorised him in his attempt to 
exhibit the successiul adjustment of two apparently in- 
coherent lives ? * 

The central element in the character of Henry is 
his noble realisation of fact. To Richard TI. life was 
a graceful and shadowy ceremony, containing beautiful 
and pathetic situations. Henry lY. saw in the world 

* Rtimelin, who argaes that Shakspere wrote to please theye«n«M6 
doT^ of the period, suggests that the character of the Prince was drawn 
from that of the Earl of Southampton I The originala of many of Shak- 
spere's historical personages, Rtimelin supposes, sat upon the side-seats 
of the stage, and are, alas 1 irrecoverably lost. (With such conjectures 
most ** realist" criticism buttress up its case !} Shakespeare-Studien 
(ed. 1874), p. 127. 

The English Historical Plays. 213 

a substantial reality, and he resolved to obtain mastery 
over it by courage and by craft. But while Bolingbroke 
with his caution and his policy, his address and his ambi- 
tion, penetrated only a little way among the facts of life, 
.his son, with a true genius for the discovery of the noblest 
facts, and of all facts, came into relation with the central 
and vital forces of the universe, so that, instead of con- 
structing a strong but careful life for himself, life breathed 
through him, and blossomed into a glorious enthusiajam 
of existence. And therefore from all that was unreal, 
and from all exaggerated egoism, Henry was absolutely 
delivered. A man who firmly holds, or rather is held 
by the beneficent forces of the world, whose feet are upon 
a rock, and whose goings are established, may with con- 
fidence abandon much of the prudence^ and many of the 
artificial proprieties of the world. For eveiy unreality 
Henry exhibits a sovereign disregard — ^for unreal man- 
ners, unreal glory, unreal heroism, unreal p;ety, imreal 
warfare, unreal lova The plain fact is so precious it 
needs no ornament. 

From the coldness, the caution, the convention of 
his faAer's court (an atmosphere, which suited well the 
temperament of John of Lancaster), Henry escapes to the 
teeming vitality of the London streets, and the tavern 
where Falstaff is monarch. There among ostlers, and 
carriers, and drawers, and merchants, and pilgrims, and 
loud robustious women, he at least has freedom and 
frolic. "If it be a sin to covet honour," Henry de- 
clares, "I am the most offending soul alive." But 
the honour that Henry covets is not that which Hot- 
spur is ambitious after : 

214 Slmkspere — His Mind and A rL 

By heaven, methinks it were an easy leap 

To pluck bright honour from the pale-faced moon.* 

The honour that Henry covets is the achievement of 
great deeds, not the words of men which vibrate around 
such deeds. Falstafl^ the despiser of honour^ labours 
across the field bearing the body of the fallen Hotspur, 
the impassioned pursuer of glory, and in his fashion of 
splendid imposture or stupendous joke, the fat knight 
claims credit for the achievement of the day's victory. 
Henry is not concerned on this occasion to put the old 
sinner to shame. To have added to the deeds of the 
world a glorious deed is itself the only honour that 
Henry seeks. Nor is his heroic greatness inconsist- 
ent with the admission of very humble incidents of 
humanity : 

Frinct, Doth it not ahow vilely in me to desire small beer? 

PovM, Why, a prince should not be so loosely studied as to re- 
member so weak a composition. 

Prince. Belike, then, my appetite was not princely got ; for by my 
troth I do now remember the poor creature, small beer. But indeed 
these humble considerations xnake me out of love with my great- 

Henry with his lank frame, and vigorous muscle (the 
opposite of the Danish Prince who is " fat and scant of 
breath"), is actually wearied to excess and thirsty, 
and he is by no means afraid to confess the fact ; his 

* 1 Henry IV., Act L, Scene 3. Kreyssig contrasts Hotapor's 
passion for honour with FalstafTs indifference to it. "Can honour 
set to a leg or an arm ? no : or take away the grief of a wound ? 
no." Henry in this matter is equally remote from Falstaff and from 
Hotspur. Vorlesungen ttber Shakespeare, vol i., pp. 244, 245. 

t Jack Cade, in his aspiration after greatness, announces— "I will 
make it felony to drink small beer. . . . when I am king, as king I 
will be." Henry's desire would seem then to be inexpressibly humili- 

The English Historical Plays. 215 

appetite at least has not been pampered. " Before God, 
Kate," such is Henry's fashion of wooiDg, "I cannot 
look greenly, nor gasp out my eloquence, nor I have no 
cunning in protestation ; only downright oaths, which 
I never use till urged, nor never break for urging. . . I 
speak to thee plain soldier ; if thou canst love me for 
this take me ; if not, to say to thee that I shall die is 
true ; but for thy love, by the Lord, no ; yet I love thee 

And as in his love there is a certain substantial home- 
liness and heartiness, so is there also in his piety. He 
is not harassed like his son, the saintly Henry, with 
refinements of scrupulosity, the disease of an irritable 
conscience, which is dehvered from its irritability by no 
active pursuit of noble ends. Henry has done what is 
right ; he has tried to repair his father's fiEtults ; he has 
built "two chantries, where the sad and solemn priests still 
sing for Richard's soul." He has done his part by God 
and man, will not God in like manner stand by him and 
perform what belongs to God ? Henry's freedom from 
egoism, his modesty, his integrity, his joyous humour, 
his practical piety, his habit of judging things by natural 
and not artificial standards ; all these are various 
developments of the central element of his character, his 
noble realisation of fact. 

But his realisation of fact produces something more 
than this integrity, this homely honesty of nature. It 
breathes through him an enthusiasm which would be 
intense if it were not so massive. Through his imion with 
the vital strength of the world, he becomes one of the 
world's most glorious and beneficent forces. From the 

2 1 6 Shakspere — His Mind and Art. 

plain and mirth-creating comrade of his fellow-soldiers 
he rises into the genius of impassioned battle. From 
the modest and quiet adviser with his counsellors and 
prelates, he is transformed, when the occasion requires it, 
into the terrible administrator of justioa When Heniy 
takes from his father's pillow the crown, and places it 
upon his own head, the deed is done with no fluttering 
rapture of attainment He has entered gravely upon 
his manhood. He has made very real to himself the 
long, careful, and joyless life of the feather who had won 
for him this "golden care." His heart is full of tender- 
ness for this sad father, to whom he had been able to 
bring so little happiness. But now he takes his due, 
the crown, and the world s whole force shall not wrest it 
£rom him ; 

Thy due from me 
Is teaiB and heavy boitowb of the blood. 
Which nature, loye, and filial tenderness, 
Shall, dear father, pay thee plenteously : 
My due from thee is thia imperial crown. 
Which, as immediate from thy place and blood, 
Derives itself to me. Lo, here it sits, 
Which (rod shall guard ; and put the world's whole strength 
Into one giant arm, it shall nob force 
This lineal honour from me. 

Here is no aesthetic feeling for the *' situation," only the 
profoundest and noblest entrance into the fact. 

The same noble and disinterested loyalty to the truth 
of things renders it easy, natural, and indeed inevitable 
that Henry should confirm in his office the Chief Justice 
who had formerly executed the law against himself, and 
equally inevitable that he should disengage himself 
absolutely from Falstaff and the associates of lus pro- 

The English Historical Plays. 217 

visional life of careless frolia To such a life an end 
must come ; . and as no terms of half-acquaintatice are 
possible with the fat Knight^ exorbitaJit in good fellow- 
ship as he is, and inexhaustible in resources, Heniy 
must become to Falstaff an absolute stranger : 

I know thee not, old man : fall to thy prayers ; 
How ill white haim become a fool and jester. 

Heniy has been stem to his former self, and turned him 
away for ever; therefore he can be stem to Falstaff. 
There is no faltering. But at an enforced distance of 
ten miles finom his person (for the fascination of Falstaff 
can hardly weave a bridge across that interval) Falstaff 
shall be sufficiently provided for : 

For oompetenoe of life I will allow you 

That lack of means enforce yoa not to evil : 

And as we hear yoa do reform youTBelyes, 

We will, according to your strengths and qualities, 

Qive you advancement.* 

Shortly before the Fingliah amiy sets sail for France 
the treason of Cambridge, Scroop, and Grey is disclosed 
to the King. He does not betray his acquaintance with 
their designs. Surrounded by traitors, he boldly enters 
his council chamber at Southampton (the wind is sitting 
fair, and but one deed remains to do before they go 
aboard). On the preceding day a man was arrested 
who had railed against the person of the King. Heniy 
gives orders that he be set at liberty : 

* It is noteworthy that although we meet Sir John so often in 
2 Henzy iv., we find the Prince only on a single oocasion in his com- 
pany: and it wonld be beyond human nature to deny himself the 
delist and edification of such a spectacle as the fat Knight cuddling 
and kissing Doll Tearsheet : Henry imut ga 

2 1 8 Skakspere — His Mind and A rt. 

We consider 
It was excess of wine that set him on ; 
And on his more adyioe we pardon him. 

But Scroop, and Grey, and Cambridge interpose. It 
would be true mercy, they insist, to punish such an 
offender. And then, when they have unawares brought 
themselves within the range of justice, Henry unfolds 
their guilt. The wrath of Henry has in it some of that 
awfulness and terror suggested by the apocalyptic refer- 
ence to "the wrath of the Lamb." It is the more 
terrible because it transcends all egoistic feeling. What 
fills the king with indignation is not so much that his 
life should have been conspired against by men on whom 
his bounty has been bestowed without measure, as that 
they should have revolted against the loyalty of man, 
weakened the bonds of fellowship, and lowered the high 
tradition of humanity : 

how hast thou with jealousy infected 
The sweetness of affiance 1 Show men dutiful? 
Why so didst thou : seem they grave and learned ? 
Why so didst thou : come they of noble family? 
Why BO didst thou : seem they religious ? 
Why so didst thou : or are they spare in diet, 
Free from gross passion, or of mirth or anger, 
Constant in spirit, not swerving with the blood, 
Garnish'd and decked in modest complemtot, 
Not working with the eye without the ear, 
And but in purged judgement trusting neither? 
Such and so finely bolted didst thou seem : 
And thus thy fall hath left a kind of blot 
To mark the full-fraught man and best indued 
With some suspicion. I will weep for thee ; 
For this revolt of thine, methinks, is like 
Another fall of man. 

No wonder that the terrible moral insistance of .tiiese 

The English Historical Plays. 2 1 9 

words can subdue consciences made of penetrable stuff; 

no wonder that such an awful discovery of high realities 

of life should call forth the loyalty that lurked within 

a traitor^s heart. But though tears escape Heniy he 

cannot relent : 

TouchlDg our person seek we no rerenge ; 
But we our kingdom^s safety must so tender, 
Whose ruin yon have sought, that to her laws 
We do deliver you. Gret you therefore hence, 
Poor miserable wretches, to your death. 
The taste whereof G9d of his mercy give 
You patience to endure, and true repentance 
Of all your dear offences I 

And having vindicated the justice of God, and purged 
his country of treason, Henry sets his face to France 
with the light of splendid achievement in his eyes. 

On the night before the great battle, Henry moves 
among his soldiers, and passes disguised from sentinel to 
sentinel. He is not, like his father, exhausted and out- 
worn by the careful construction of a life. If an hour 
of depression comes upon him, he yet is strong, because 
he can look through his depression to a strength and 
virtue outside of and beyond himself. Joy may ebb 
with him or rise, as it will ; the current of his inmost 
being is fed by a source that springs from the hard rock 
of life, and is no tidal flow. He accepts his weakness 
and his weariness as part of the surrender of ease 
and strength and self which he makes on behalf of 
England. With a touch of his old love of frolic he 
enters on the quarrel with Williams, and exchanges 
gages with the soldier. When morning dawns he looks 
freshly, and '' overbears attaint," with cheerful semblance 
and sweet majesty : 

2 20 Shakspere — His Mind and Art 

A largeBB oniTenal like the san 

His liberal eye doth give to every one^ 

Thawing coM fear. 

With a prayer to God he sets to rights the heavenward 
side of his nature^ and there leaves it. In the battle 
Henry does not^ in the manner of his politic father, send 
into the field a number of counterfeit kings to attract 
away from himself the centre of the war. There is no 
stratagem at Agincourt; it is ''plain shock and even 
play of battle." K Henry for a moment ceases to be the 
skilful wielder of resolute strength, it is only when he 
rises into the genius of the rage of battle : 

I was not angry since I came to France 
Until this instant. Take a trumpet, herald ; 
Ride thou unto the horsemen on yon lull : 
If they will fight with us, bid them come down. 
Or void the field ; they do offend our sight : 
If they do neither we will come to them. 
And make them skirr away as swift as stones 
Enforced from the old Assyrian slings ; 
Besides we'll cut the throats of those we have, 
And not a man of them that we shall take 
Shall taste our mercy. 

It is in harmony with the spirit of the play, and with 
the character of Henry that it should close with no 
ostentatious heroics, but with the half jocular, whole 
earnest wooing of the French princess by the English 
king. With a touch of irony to which one of the critics 
of the play has called attention,* we are furnished with 
a hint as to the events which must follow Henry's 
glorious reign. " Shall not thou and I," exclaims the 
king in his unconventional manner of winning a bride, 

* H. N. Hudson. 

The English Historical Plays. 221 

" Shall not thou and I, between Saint Denis and Saint 
George, compound a boy, half French, half English, that 
shall go to Constantinople and take the Turk by the 
beard." This boy destined to go to Constantinople and 
confront the Turk was the helpless Henry the Sixth. 

The historical plays are documents written all over 
with &ct8 about Shakspere. Some of these facts are 
now discernible. We have learned something about 
Shakspere's convictions as to how the noblest practical 
success in life may be achieved. We know what Shak- 
spere would have tried to become himself if there had 
not been a side of his character which acknowledged 
closer affinity with Hamlet than with Henry. We can 
in some measure infer how Shakspere would endeavour 
to control, and in what directions he would endeavour 
to reinforce his own nature while in pursuit of a 
practical mastery over events and things. 



If Shakspere had died at the age of &rty, it might have 
been said, " The world has lost much, but the world's 
chief poet could hardly have created anything more won- 
derful than Hamlet.*' But after Hamlet came King 
Lear. Hamlet was, in fetct, only the point of de- 
parture in Shakspere's immense and final sweep of mind, 
— ^that in which he endeavoured to include and compre- 
hend life for the first time adequately. Through Hamlet 
— perhaps also through events in the poet's personal 
history, which tested his will as Hamlet's will was tested 
— Shakspere had been reached and touched by the 
shadow of some of the deep mysteries of human exist- 
ence. Somehow a relation between his soul and the 
dark and terrible forces of the world was established, and 
to escape from a thorough investigation and sounding of 
the depths of life was no longer possible. Shakspere 
had by this time mastered the world from a practical 
point of view. He was a prosperous and wealthy man. 
He had completed his English historical plays, which are 
concerned with this practical mastery of the world. But all 
the more because he had resolved his material difficulties 
was his mind open to the profounder spiritual problems of 
lifa Having completed Henry V., for a short period 

Othello: Macbeth: Lear, 223 

he yielded his imagination and his heart to the brightest 
and most exuberant enjoyment Around the year 1600 
are grouped some of the most mirthful comedies that 
Shakspere ever wrote. Then, a little later, as soon as 
Hamlet is completed, all changes. From 1604 to 1610 
a show of tragic figures, like the kings who passed before 
Macbeth, filled the vision of Shakspere; until last the 
desperate image of Timon rose before him; when, as 
though unable to endure or to conceive a more lament- 
able ruin of man, he turned for relief to the pastoral 
loves of Prince Florizel and Perdita ; and as soon as the 
tone of his mind was restored, gave expression to its 
ultimate mood of grave serenity in The Tempest : and 
so ended. 

During these years the imaginative fervour of Shak- 
spere was at its highest, and sustained itself without 
abatement. There was no feverish excitement in his 
energy, and there was no pause. In some of his earlier 
years of authorship (if the generally received chronology 
be accepted) two or even three plays were produced 
within a twelve-month, of which this or that was after- 
wards acknowledged by its author to be a hasty piece of 
work, yet of sufficient substance and merit to deserve re- 
handling. During a certain brief season it may have 
been that Shakspere altogether ceased to write for the 
stage. But now in unbroken series, year by year, one 
great tragedy succeeds another. Having created Othello 
surely the eye of a poet's mind would demand quietude, 
passive acceptance of some calm beauty, a period of re- 
storation. But Othello is pursued by Lear, Lear by 
Macbeth, Macbeth by Antony and Cleopatra, Antony 

2 24 Shakspere — His Mind and Art. 

and Cleopatra by Coriolaniis. It is evident that the 
artitit was now completely roused. The impetus of his 
advance continued, and carried him without effort on 
from subject to subject He could not put aside his 
stupendous task ; neither would he accomplish any part 
of it imperfectly. In these years the utmost imaginative 
susceptibility is united with the utmost self-control. 
Every portion of his being is at length engaged in the 
magnificent effort. At first in the career of most artists 
a portion of their nature holds aloof from art, and is 
ready for application to other service. They have a 
poetical side, and a side which is prosaic. Gradually as 
they advance towards maturity faculty after faculty is 
brought into fruitful relation with the art-instinct, until 
at length the entire nature of the artist is fused in one, 
and his work becomes the expression of a complete per- 
sonality. This period had now arrived for Shakspere. 
In the great tragedies passion and thought, humour and 
pathos, severity and tenderness, knowledge and guess, 
are all accepted as workers together with the imagina- 

Tragedy as conceived by Shakspere is concerned with 
the ruin or the restoration of the soul, and of the life 
of men. In other words its subject is the struggle of 
good and evil in the world. This strikes down upon the 
roots of things. The comedies of Shakspere had, in 
comparison, played upon the surface of life. The 
Histories, though very earnest, had not dealt with the 
deeper mysteries of being. Henry Y., the ideal figure 
of the historical plays, has a very real and firm grasp of 
the actual world. He has his religion, and he has his 

Othello: Macbeth: Lear. 225 

passion of love; but both are positive, practical, and 
limited No more can his religion than his love ever 
embarrass Henry in his joyous mastery over men and 
things. His soldier-like piety, and large, incurious trust 
in God suflBce to resolve all questions with regard to that 
dark outlying region which surrounds the knowable and 
the practicable. With a devout optimism, Henry per- 
ceives there is " some soul of goodness in things evil," 
and he proceeds to confirm this principle by the very 
substantial and business-like instance that their bad 
neighbours, the French, had made his soldiers early 
stirrers. But such devout optimism was absolutely 
without avail for the spiritual needs of the man who had 
conceived Hamlet. " To say that I shall die " declares 
King Henry to Blatherine, " is true ; but for thy love, — 
by the Lord, no." Yet Shakspere had discovered that 
to die for love may be the highest need of a life under 
certain extreme conditions. Juliet had died for love ; 
Romeo had died for love ; and in so doing they had 
fulfilled and accomplished their lives. Therefore this 
love of Henry is tested by Shakspere, and declared to be 
a passion with limitation, serviceable for useful ends of 
marriage, and for the producing of children ; but not that 
devotion of soul to soul which does not recognise the 
limitations of space or of time. " There is some soul of 
goodness in things evil," declares King Henry. And as 
comment upon such devout optimism, Shakspere pro- 
duces Goneril and Regan, lago,* and the Witches in 
Macbeth. Now, in the tragedies, Shakspere has flung 
himself abroad upon the dim sea which moans around 
our little solid sphere of the known. Such easy and 


2 26 Shakspere — His Mind and Art 

pious answers to the riddles of the world as constituted 
the working faith of a Henry V. belong to a smaller 
and safer world of thought, feeling, and action ; not to 

There are certain problems which Shakspere at once 
pronounces insoluble. He does not, like Milton, propose 
to give any account of the origin of evil. He does not, 
like Dante, pursue the soul of man through circles of 
unending torture, or spheres made radiant by the 
eternal presence of God. Satan, in Shakspere's poems, 
does not come voyaging on gigantic vans across Chaos to 
find the earth. No great deliverer of mankind descends 
from the heavens. Here, upon the earth, evil i* — such 
was Shakspere's declaration in the most emphatic accent, 
lago actually exists. There is also in the earth a sacred 
passion of deliverance, a pure redeeming ardour. 
Cordelia exists, , This Shakspere can tell for certain. 
But how lago can be, and why Cordelia lies strangled 
across the breast of Lear — are these questions which you 
go on to ask ? Something has been already said of the 
severity of Shakspere. It is a portion of his severity to 
decline all answers to such questions as these. Is ignor- 
ance painful? Well, then, it is painful. Little solutions 
of your large difficulties can readily be obtained from priest 
or philosophe, Shakspere prefers to let you remain in the 
solemn presence of a mystery. He does not invite you 
into his little church or his little library brilliantly 
illuminated by philosophical or theological rushlights. 
You remain in the darkness. But you remain in the 
vital air. And the great night is overhead. 

Critics of the last century were much exercised in 

Othello: Macbeth: Lear. 227 

mind about Shakspere*s violations of the rule of poetical 
justice. Dr Johnson, with his sturdy British morality, 
could not endure to read the last scenes of Eling Lear, 
and declared in favour of Nahum Tate's improvement on 
Shakspere's play, according to which Edgar makes love 
to Cordelia, and she retires in the end " with victory and 
felicity." To die is so exceedingly uncomfortable ; to 
live, and be a happy wife is so eminently satisfactory. 
Shakspere's morality is somewhat more stem than that 
of the great moralist. Shakspere introduces into the 
world no little ethical code. Such a little ethical code 
would flutter away in tatters across the tempest and the 
night of Leai^s agony. But Shakspere discovers the 
supreme fact, — that the moral worf d HfAnda in anvPTPign 
independence of the world of the senses .* Cordelia lies 
upon the breast of Lear. '' Upon such sacrifices the 
gods themselves throw incense." Cordelia might have 
returned to France with her husband, and have lived 
prosperously. But then Cordelia, the pure zeal of re- 
deeming ardour, would indeed have ceased to be. Now 
she has fulfilled the end of her being. It is not so hard 
to die. Cordelia had accepted her lot with fortitude : 

We are not the firet 
Who with beet meanlDg have incurred the worst. 

* Ereysng describes Shakspere's ethics as essentially identical with 
the ethics of Kant : — ** Von alien Tragodien Shakespeare's, ja yon 
alien uns bekannten Tragodien alter nnd neuer Zeit scheint *' Lear*' 
nns am voUstandigsten die Beizeichnung, '*erhaben," im Schiller'schen 
Sinne zn Terdienen, insofem sie mitganz besonderem Nachdmck die 
nnbedingte sonverane TJnabhangigkeit der sittlichen Welt von dor der 
Sinne zur Anschannng bringt: die Tragbdie des katagorischen 
Imperatives von dem grossten germanischen Dichter geschaut und 
geschaffen, zwei Jahrhnnderte, ehe der grusste germaniache Denker 
sein Gesetz wissenschaftlich begrttndete. Shakespeare- Fragen, p. 128. 

22S Shakspere — His Mind and A rt. 

And for us the earth is made more beautiM by her life and 
by her death. That which satisfies our heart, that which 
brings us strength and consolation is not that by happy 
concurrence of circumstances Cordelia should succeed in 
her enterprize, but merely that Cordelia existed. Lesser 
happiness can be dispensed with if we are granted the 
joy of the presence of beautiful, heroic souls. Cordelia 
has strengthened the bonds of humanity ; she has 
enriched the tradition of human goodness. It is better 
' for each of us to breathe because she has been a woman. 
Thus although there was no possibility for Shakspere 
to become a facile optimist, bearing jauntily a banner 
with the device Whaiever is, is best, and singing to 
some tune secular or sacred the perfections of this the 
best of all possible worlds, he is equally far removed 
from despair. Tlie absolute despair as represented by 
Shakspere, that of Timon, — ^is despair of human virtue. 
And to such despair of human virtue Shakspere never 
yielded himself. At the entrance to his long series of 
tragic writings stands the figure of Isabel, in Lucio's eyes 
*' a thing ensky'd and sainted " in that Vienna where 

GorruptioD boils and babbles 
Till it o'er-nin the stew. 

At the close stand Prospero and Hermione. The ills 
of life had sunk deep into Hamlet's soul : — 

Th3 oppressor's wrong, the proud man^s contumely, 
Tlie pangs of despised love, the law's delay, 
T\\Q insolence of office and the spurns 
That patient merit of the unworthy takes. 

But presently by his side stood human virtue — Horatio, 
" a man that Fortime buflfets and rewards" — these very 

Othello: Macbeth: Lear. 229 

ills which Hamlet enumerated — " had ta'en with equal 
thanks.'' lago is a devouring gulf of evil ''more fell 
than anguish, hunger, or the sea." But over against 
Us malignity and cold impureness rises Desdemona, who 
cannot extend her imagination so far as to credit any 
breach of wifely faith or modesty in any woman. Qoneril 
and Began dismiss the old man into the tempest and - 
the night ; but Cordelia restores him with the warmth 
of her bosom. 

This period during which Shakspere was engaged 
upon his great tragedies was not, as it has been ' 
sometimes represented, a period of depression and of 
gloom in Shakspere's spiritual progress. True, he was 
now sounding the depths of evil as he had never sounded 
them before. But his faith in goodness had never been 
so strong and sure. Hitherto it had not been thoroughly 
tested. In the over-strained loyalty of Valentine to his 
unworthy friend there is something fantastic and unreal. 
The graver friendship of Horatio for Hamlet is deeper 
and more genuine. There is gallantry in Portia's rescue 
of her husband's friend from death ; but the devotion of 
Cordelia nourishes itself from springs of strength which 
lie farther down among the roots of things. Now, with 
every fresh discovery of crime Shakspere made discovery 
of virtue which cannot suffer defeat. T^a l^y^nwjfdgA of 
^^ Pi^^ nf gft^ gr^^ ^rxgi>fVi^i- While Shakspere moved 
gaily upon the surface of life, it was the play of intellect 
that stirred within him the liveliest sense of pleasure. 
The bright speech and unsubduable mirth, not dis- 
joined from common sense and goodness of heart of a ' 
Rosalind or a Beatrice, filled him with a sense of quick* 

2 30 Skakspere — His Mind and Art. 

ened existence. Now that he had come to comprehend 
more of the sorrow and more of the evil of the earth — 
treachery, ingratitude, cruelty, lust — Shakspere found 
perhaps less to delight him in mere brightness of intel- 
lect ; he certainly gave his heart away with more fervour 
of loyalty to human goodness, to fortitude, purity of 
heart, self-surrender, self-mastery — to every noble ex- 
pression of character. Such mellowing and enriching of 
Shakspere's nature could not have proceeded during a 
period in which his moral being was in confusion, and 
heaven and earth seemed to lie chaotically around him. 
Were his delight in man and woman, his faith and joy 
in human goodness, stained with sullenness and ignoble 
resentment, could he have discovered Horatio and Kent, 
Cordelia and Desdemona ? No. If the sense of wrong 
sank deep into his soul, if life became harder and more 
grave, yet he surmounted all sense of personal wrong, 
and while life grew more severe, it grew more beautiful. 


The tragedy of Othello is the tragedy of a free and 
lordly creature taken in the toils, and writhing to death. 
In one of his sonnets, Shakspere has spoken of 

Some fierce thing replete with too much rage 
Whose strength's abundance weakens his own heart. 

Such a fierce thing, made weak by his very strength, is 
Othello. There is a barbaresque grandeur and sim- 
plicity about the movements of his soul. He sees things 
with a large and generous eye, not prying into the curious 
or the occult. He is a liberal accepter of life, and with 

Otiiello: Macbeth: Lear, 231 

a eyeless magnificence wears about him the ornament of 
strange experience ; memories of 

Antres vast, and desarts idle, 
Rough quarries, rocks, and hills whose heads touch heaven, 

memories of " disastrous chances, of moving accidents by 
flood and field." There is something of grand innocence 
in his loyalty to Venice, by which Mr Browning was not 
unaffected when he conceived his Moorish commander, 
Luria. Othello, a stranger, with tawny skin and fierce 
traditions in his blood, is fascinated by the grave senate, 
the nobly ordered life (possessing a certain rich colouring 
of its own), and the astute intelligence of the City of the 
Sea. At his last moment, through the blinding sand- 
storm of his own passion, this feeling of disinterested 
loyalty recurs to Othello, and brings him a moment's joy 
and pride. His history has been, indeed, a calamitous 
mistake ; like the base Indian, he has thrown away '' a 
pearl richer than all his tribe." But there is one fact 
with which the remembrance of him may go down to 
men, one fact which will rescue from complete deformity 
and absurd imreason the story of Othello : — 

Set you down this ; 
And say, besides, that in Aleppo once, 
Where a malignant and a turban^d Turk 
Beat a Venetian, and traduc'd the State, 
I took by the throat the circumcised dog. 
And smote him, thus. 

With this loyalty to Venice, there is also an instinctive 
turning towards the barbaric glory which he has surren- 
dered. He is the child of royal ancestry : " I fetch my 
life and being from men of royal siege." All the more 

232 Shakspere — His Mind and A rt 

joyous on this account it is to devote himself to the 
service of the State. And thus Othello has reached 
manhood, and passed on to middle life. 

Then in the house of Brabantio this simple and 
magnificent nature found his fate. Desdemona, mov- 
ing to and fix) at her house-affairs, or listening with 
grave wonder, and eager, restrained sympathy to 
the story of his adventurous life, became to him, at first 
in an unconscious way, the type of beauty, gentle- 
ness, repose, and tender womanhood. And Desdemona, 
in her turn, brought up amidst the refinements and 
ceremonies of Venetian Ufe, watching each day the same 
gondolas glide by, hearing her father's talk of some little 
new law of the Duke, found in the Moor strangeness and 
splendour of strong manhood, heroic simplicity, the charm 
of one who had suffered in solitude, and on whose history 
compassion might be lavished. Thus, while Brutus and 
Portia were indissolubly bound together by their like- 
ness, Desdemona and Othello were mutually attracted by 
the wonder and grace of unlikeness. In the love of 
each there was a romantic element ; and romance is not 
the highest form of the service which imagination renders 
to love. For romance disguises certain facts, or sees 
them, as it were, through a luminous mist; but the 
highest service which the imagination can render to the 
heart is the discovery of every fact, the hard and bare as 
well as the beautiful; and, to effect this, like a clear 
north wind it blows all mists away. There was a cer- 
tain side of Othello's nature which it were well that 
Desdemona had seen, though she trembled. 

But if Desdemona loves not with the most instructed 

Othello: Macbeth: Lear. 233 

heart, she yet loves purely and with tender devotion. And 

because her love was so entirely that of the heart, and of 

the imagination, Desdemona felt the tawny face, and the 

mature years, and half-barbaric origin of Othello, only as 

dim under-chords enriching the harmonies of her love. 

The whole current of her being, ordinarily so easy and 

tranquil, hurried forward with what to herself seemed 

"downright violence," to unite itself with the inmost 

being of the Moor : — 

That I did love the Moor to live with him, 
My downright violence and Btorm of fortones 
May trumpet to the world ; my heart's subdued 
Even to the very quality of my lord; 
I saw Othello's visage in his mind, 
And to his honours and his valiant parts 
Did I my soul and fortunes consecrate. 

Hazlitt has observed truly, " The extravagance of her 

resolutions, the pertinacity of her affections, may be said 

to arise out of the gentleness of her nature. They 

imply an unreserved reliance on the purity of her own 

intentions, an entire surrender of her fears to her love, 

a knitting of herself, heart and soul, to the fate of 

another." * And it is this being, who is to Othello " a 

wonder, and a beauty, and a terror," 

A gentle tone 
Amid rude voices, — a beloved light, 
A solitude, a refuge, a delight, 

it is this being whom he must hereafter cast away and 

'trample under foot, — 

thou weed 
Who art so lovely fair, and smell'st so sweet 
That the sense aches at thee, would thou had'st 
ne'er been bom ! 

* Characters of Shakespear'B Flays, by W. Hazlitt, p. 52, socond 

•234 Shakspere — His Mind and A rL 

Portia was to Brutus the ideal of all he would fain 
become himself ; the attraction was that of identical 
qualities : " O ye gods, render me worthy of this noble 
wife ! " and Portia could come to Brutus and urge upon 
him her right of sharing in all that concerned him. 
Between Portia and Brutus, therefore, no errors of the 
heart were possible. But to Desdemona her husband 
was her lord, a being to be worshipped and served, and 
in his gentler mood to be played with, and graciously be 
contradicted and caressed. And Othello, for his part, 
has a care to stand between his gentle wife and the 
rough vexations which beset himself. When roused at 
night by the brawl she appears in the streets, the Moor 
is doubly indignant with the offenders, because they 
have troubled her repose, and with affectionate force he 
turns her back from enquiring into what had caused 
him disturbance : 

Look, if my gentle love be not raised up ! 

ru make thee an example. 
Dm, What's the matter ? 

0(h, All's well now, sweeting ; come away to bed. 

The nature of Othello is free and open ; he looks on 
men with a gaze too large and royal to suspect them of 
malignity and fraud ; he is a man " not easily jealous : " 

My noble Moor 
Is true of mind, and made of no such baseness 
As jealous creatures are. 

He has, however, a sense of his own inefficiency in 
dealing with the complex and subtle conditions of life in 
his adopted country. Where all is plain and broad, he 
relies upon his own judgment and energy. He is a 

Othello: Macbeth: Lear. 235 

master of simple, oommanding action. When, upon the 
night of Defidemona's departure from her father's house, 
Brabantio and the officers with torches and weapons 
meet him, and a tumult seems inevitable, Othello 
subdues it with the untroubled, large validity of his 

Keep up your bright swords, for the dew will rost them. 

But for curious enquiry into complex facts he has no 
faculty ; he loses his bearings ; " being wrought upon " 
he is " perplexed in the extreme." Then, too, his hot 
Mauritanian blood mounts quickly to the point of 
boiling. If he be infected, the poison hurries through 
his veins, and he rages in his agony. 

Here upon the one side is material for a future 
catastrophe. And on the other, there is Desdemona's 
timidity. When she could stand by Othello's side, 
Desdemona was able to confront her father, and in 
presence of the Duke and magnificoes, declare that she 
would not return to the home she had abandoned. But 
during Othello's courtship Desdemona had shrunk from 
any speech upon this matter with Brabantio, and by 
innocent reserves and little dissemblings had kept him 
in ignorance of this great event in her history.* The 
Moor had moved her imagination by his strange 
nobility, his exotic grandeur. But how if afterwards her 
imagination be excited by some strange terror about her 

* A circumstance which lago afterwards toma to accoont against 
the peace of Othello's mind : 

She did deceive her father marrying you ; 
And when she seem'd to shake and fear your looks, 
She loved them most. 
OHu And so she did. 

236 Shakspere — His Mind and A rt. 

husband ? What will her refined feminine accomplish- 
ments avail her then — her delicacy with her needle, the 
admirable music with which she " will sing the savage- 
ness out of a bear : " 

I fear you, for you are fatal then, 
When your eyee roll so. 

The handkerchief which she has lost becomes terrible to 
her, when Othello with oriental rapture into the mar- 
vellous describes its virtue : 

There's ma^c in the web of it : 

A sibyl that had numbered in the world 

The sun to course two hundred compasses. 

In her prophetic fury sew'd the work ; 

The worms were hallowed that did breed the silk, 

And it was dyed in mummy which the skilful 

Consenred of maidens' hearts. 

For Desdemona, with her smooth, intelligible girl's 
life in Venice, having at largest its little pathetic 
romance of her maid Barbara, with her song of " Willow," 
here flowed in romance too stupendous, too torrid, and 
alien to be other than dreadful Shall we wonder that 
in her disturbance of mind she trembles to declare 
to her husband that this talisman could not be 
found. Underneath the momentary, superficial falsehood 
remains the constancy and fidelity of her heart ; through 
alarm, and shock, and surprise, and awful alteration of 
the world, her heart never swerves from loyalty to her 
husband. K she had deceived Brabantio, as in his 
anger he declares, and if in this matter of the handker- 
chief she had faltered from the truth, Desdemona atones 
for these unveracities ; not by acquisition of a confident 
candour, — such courageous dealing with difficulties was 

Othello: Macbeth: Lear, 237 

impossible for Desdemona, — but by one more falsehood, 
the sacred lie which is murmured by her lips as they 
grow for ever silent : 

Emelia. 0, who Lath doae tfaiB deed ? 
Des, Nobody ; I myself ; farewell ; 

Commend me to my kind lord ; 0, farewell.* 

If the same imknowable force which manifests itself 
through man, manifests itself likewise through the 
animal world, we might suppose that there were some 
special affinities between the soul of Othello, and the 
lion of his ancestral desert. Assuredly the same 
malignant power that lurks in the eye and that fills with 
venom the &ng of the serpent would seem to have 
brought into existence lago. " It is the strength of the 
base element that is so dreadful in the serpent ; it is the 
very omnipotence of the earth. ... It scarcely breathes 
with its one lung (the other shrivelled and abortive) ; it 

* In 1S30, in period of full roTolution in matters of dramatic art at 
Paris, the Othello translated and prefaced by Alfred de Vigny was 
acted at the Th^&tre Fran9ai8. The Due de Broglie on this occasion 
published in the Bevtte/ranfaise a remarkable article (reprinted by M. 
Guizot in his Shakspeare et son Temps, pp. 264-343) on the State of 
Dramatic Art in France. Of these last words of Desdemona, ss 
delivered by MUe. Mars, the Due de Broglie writes : — Nous devons le 
declarer ; 1' effet de ce mot a ^t4 nul, — et franchement nous nous ^tions 

tou jours doutd qu'il en devait arriver ainsi Depuis le jour de stn 

manage Desdemona s'est consid^r^e comme la propri^t^ d'Othello, 
comme quelque chose dont Othello est le maltre d'user et d'abuser, 
comme une esclave qu'il pent battre ou tuer s'il lui en prend fantasie ; 
comment viendrait-elle k penser tout-&-coup qu' Othello coure aucun 
risque k propos d*elle, ni qu'il soit n^cessaire de le mettre k I'abri d'une 
poursuite criminelle ? " The criticism is more curious than just ; but 
the recorded fact is interesting. See on the feeling towards Shakspere 
in France at the time of this representation of Othello, ** Histoire de 
rinfluence de Shakspeare sur le Th^dtre Fran9ais (Septidme Phase; par 
Albert Lacroix. (Bruxelles, 1856.) 

238 Shakspere — His Mind and A rt, 

is passive to the sun and shade, and is cold or hot like a 
stone ; yet * it can outclimb the monkey, outswim the 
fish, outleap the zebra, outwrestle the athlete and crush 
the tiger.' It is a divine hieroglyph of the demoniac 
power of the earth, — of the entire earthly nature." * 
Such is the serpent lago. 

In the last scene of the play Othello calls on Cassio 
(for he cannot himself approach the horror) to interrogate 
lago respecting the motives of his malignant crime : 

Will you, I pray, demand that demi -devil 
Why he hath thus ensnared my soul and body ? 

And lago forecloses all such enquiry with the words, — 
they are the last words that he utters : 

Demand me nothing : what you know you know : 
From this time forth I never will speak word. 

Shakspere would have us believe that as there is a 
passion of goodness with no motive but goodness itself, 
so there is also a dreadful capacity in the soul for 
devotion to evil independently of motives, or out of all 
proportion to such motives, as may exist.f lago is the 

* Buskin, '' The Queen of the Air, pp. 83, 84. The words quoted by 
Mr Kuskin are those of Mr Richard Owen. 

t For a discussion of the motives of lago, see Hebler '^Aufsatee uber 
Shakespeare '' (Bern, 1865), pp. 42-60. The Due de Broglie, in the 
article quoted already, endeavours to show that the character of lago 
is incoherent. "Qu*est-ce qu' lago? Est-ce le malin esprit ou du 
moins son repr^sentant sur la terre ? OtheUo a-t-il raison quand il le 
regarde aux pieds pour voir s'-il ne lee aurait pas fourchus? .... Alors 
pourquoi donner & lago des motivs humains et int^ress^ ? Pourqnoi 
nous montrer en lui une basse cupidity, le ressentiment d'une injure 
faite & son honneur, I'envie d'un poste plus ^leve' que le sien ? . . . . Ces 
passions de bas aloi d^truiseut tout le fantastique du r61e ; le d^mon n'a 
ni humeur tH honneur ; il n*a ni rancune ni colore, ni convoitise ; c'est 
un personnage d^intdress^ ; il fait le mal parce que le mal est le ma], et 

Othello: Macbeth: Lear. 239 

absolute infidel ; for he is devoid of all faith in beauty 
and in virtue. Timon disbelieves, but he becomes 
desperate and abandons life. lago finds it right and 
natural to live in a world, in which all men are knaves 
or fools, and all women are that which Desdemona is 
unable to name. 

Together with everything beautiful, everything noble, 
there inevitably exists a gross element of the earth. It 
is upon this gross element alone that lago battjBUS, and 
he can discover it everywhere by denying and dismissing 
all that transforms, purifies and ennobles it. Othello 
with his heroic simplicity and royalty of soul 

Will as tenderly be led by the nose 
As asses are. 

Cassio, who is full of chivalric enthusiasm for his great 
leader and the beautiful bride whom he has won, is to 
lago "a knave very voluble; no further conscionable 
than in putting on the mere form of civil and humane 
feeling, for the better compjussing of his salt and most 
hidden loose affection." Desdemona, exclaims Boderigo, 
is "full of most blessed condition." Icigo, "Blessed 
fig s-end ! the wine she drinks is made of grapes : if she 

qn'O est, lui, le malin. lago est-il an contraire, comma il s'en fait 
gloire, le parfait egoiste, Thomme qui sait, an snprdme degr^ s'aimer 
lai-mfime, T^tre qui sait subordonner hi^rarchiqiiement aee d^sira, aelon 
lenr degr^ d'importance, et diaposer enauite aea actiona de mani^re a 
tendre mvariablement k aa plua haute aatiafaction, coiite que coiite a 
autrui, aana acrupule, aana remorda, et auaai aana ae Isiaaer d^tourner 
par dea vell^itea d'un ordre inf^rieur ? Alora pourquoi pourauit-il en 
m6me tempa troia ou quatre buta diatincta, et d'un importance pour lui 
trte inhale? .... Pourquoi aurtout prodigue-t-il, dana chaque 
occasion, cent fois plus de m^chancet^ quile besoin de la circonstance ne 
le comporte T " Reprinted in Guizot'a ** Shakspeare et son Temps,'' pp. 

240 Shakspere — His Mind and Art 

had been blessed she would never have loved the Moor. 

Blessed pudding ! Didst thou not see her paddle with 

the palm of his hand ? Didst not mark that ? '' The 

Moor has inflamed her imagination with '' bragging and 

telling her fantastical lies." Love " is merely a lust of 

the blood and a permission of the will." Virtue is " a 

fig ! 'tis in ourselves that we are thus or thus." " O, I 

have lost my reputation I " Cassio cries, " I have lost the 

immortal part of myself, and what remains is bestial. 

My reputation, lago, my reputation." lojgo, " As I am 

an honest man, I thought you had received some bodily 

wound." All this is the earthiness of the serpent ; the 

dull eye which quickens only to fascinate and to strike ; 

the muddy skin, discoloured with foul blotches ; and the 

dust, which is the serpent's meat. This cold malignant 

power, passionless and intellectually sensual, — ^the soul 

itself having become more animal than the body can ever 

be, — ^is incarnated in the person of a man still young. 

lago has reached the age of twenty-eight. And he is 

a merry knave. While enticing Cassio to his ruin he 

entertains the company with clattering song : 

And let me the canakin clink, clink I 
And let me the canakin clink. 

It is the grin of a death's head, the mirth of a ghoul* 

* The passionless character of lago, Coleridge says, '*1b all will in 
inteUect ; " and he notices well " the motive-hunting of a motiveless 
malignity," in lago'&soliloqay, Act i., Scent 3. Mr Hudson's study of 
the character of lago is careful and discriminating. ** lago's creed," 
writes Mr Hudson, "is that the yielding to any inspirations from 
without argues an ignoble want of mental force. . . . Intellectuality 
is lago's proper character ; that is, inteUect has in him cast off all 
allegiance to the moral reason, and become a law unto itself, so that 
the mere fact of his being able to do a thing is sufficient cause for 
doing it." 

Othello: Macbeth: Lear, 241 

These are the chief forces, and the play of these forces 
constitutes the tragedy. Since Coleridge made the 
remark, all critics of Othello are constrained to repeat 
after him that the passion of the Moor is not altogether 
jealousy — ^it is rather the agony of being compelled to 
hate that which he supremely loved : 

Excellent wretch ! Perdition catch my soul, 
Bat f do love ihee, and when I love thee not, 
ChaoB 18 come again. 

Othello does not feel himself placed in rivalry with 
Cassio for the affection of his wife. lago has contrived 
that the Moor shall overhear him conversing with Cassio 
about Bianca. Cassio, at thought of the extravagant 
pursuit of him by the Venetian courtesan, laughs aloud. 
It is then that Othello breaks out with the enraged cry, 
** How shall I murder him, lago ? " But Othello sup- 
posed that Cassio had been speaking of Desdemona, and 
that his laugh was a profane mockery of her fall. It 
was Cassio's supposed ignoble thought respecting Desde- 
mona, even more than jealousy, which made him seem 
to Othello to merit mortal vengeance. Ordinarily 
Othello thinks little about Cassio. His agony is con- 
centrated in the thought that the fairest thing on earth 
should be foul, that the fountain from which the current 
of his life had seemed to run so pure and free should be 

A cistern for foul toads 
To knot and gender in I 

It is with an agonized sense of justice that he destroys 
the creature who is dearest to him in the world, knowing 
certainly that with hers his own true life must cease. 
Nay, it is not with the cessation of Desdemona's breath 


242 Sfiakspere — His Mind and Art 

that the life of Othello ends ; he is unable to survive the 
loss of faith in her perfect purity. All that had been 
glorious beoomes remote and impossible for him if 
Desdemona be false. We hear the great childlike sob 
of Othello's soul : 

0, now, for ever 
FareweU the tranqtiil mind ! farewell content ! 
Farewell the plumed troop, and the big wan 
That make ambition virtue. 

From the first suggestion of suspicion by his ensnarer, 
Othello is impatient for assurance, and finds suspense 
intolerable. Why ? Not surely because he is eager to 
convict his wife of infidelity ; but rather because he will 
not allow his passionate desire to believe her pure to 
abuse him, and retain him in a fool's paradise, while a 
great agony may possibly remain before him. 

Of the tragic story what is the final issue? The 
central point of its spiritual import lies in the contrast 
between the two men, lago and his victim. lago, with 
keen intellectual faculties and manifold culture in Italian 
vice, lives and thrives after his fashion in a world from 
which all virtue and all beauty are absent. Othello 
with his barbaric innocence and regal magnificence of 
soul must cease to live the moment he ceases to retain 
faith in the purity and goodness which were to him the 
highest and most real things upon earth. Or if he live, 
life must become to him a cruel agony. Shakspere 
compels us to acknowledge that self- slaughter is a 
rapturous energy — that such prolonged agony is joy in 
comparison with the earthy life*in-death of such a soul 
as that of lago. The noble nature is taken in the toils 

Otfullo: Macbeth: Lear, 243 

because it is noble. lago suspects his wife of every 

baseness, but the suspicion has no other effect than to 

intensify his malignity. lago could not be captured and 

constrained to heroic suffering and rage. The shame of 

every being who bears the name of woman is credible to 

lago, and yet he can grate from his throat the jarring 

music : 

And let me the canakin clink, clink ; 
And let me the canakin clink. 

There is therefore, Shakspere would have us understand, 
something more inimical to humanity than suffering — 
namely, an incapacity for noble pain. To die as Othello 
dies is indeed grievous. But to live as lago lives, 
devouring the dust and stinging — this is more appalling. 
Such is the spiritual motive that controls the tragedy. 
And the validity of this truth is demonstrable to every 
sound conscience. No supernatural authority needs to 
be summoned to bear witness to this reality of human 
life. No pallid flame of hell, no splendour of dawning 
heaven, needs show itself beyond the verge of earth to 
illumine this truth. It is a portion of the ascertained 
fact of human nature, and of this our mortal existence. 
We look upon ** the tragic loading of the bed," and we 
see lago in presence of the ruin he -has wrought. 
We are not compelled to seek for any resolution of 
these apparent discords in any alleged life to come. 
That may also be; we shall accept it, if it be. But 
looking sternly and strictly at what is now actual and 
present to our sight, we yet rise above despair. Desde- 
mona's adhesion to her husband and to love survived 
the ultimate trial. Othello dies "upon a kiss.'* He 

244 Shakspere — His Mind and Art 

perceives his own calamitous error, and he recognizes 
Desdemona pure and loyaJ as she was. Goodness is 
justified of her child. It is evil which suffers defeat. 
It is lago whose whole existence has been most blind, 
purposeless, and miserable — a struggle against the 
virtuous powers of the world, by which at last he stands 
convicted and condenmed. 


There is a line in the play of Macbeth, uttered as the 
evening shadows begin to gather on the day of Banquo's 
murder, which we may repeat to ourselves as a motto of 
the entire tragedy, " Good things of day begin to droop 
and drowse." It is the tragedy of the twilight and the 
setting-in of thick darkness upon a human soul. We 
assist at the spectacle of a terrible sunset in folded 
clouds of blood. To the last, however, one thin hand's- 
breadth of melancholy light remains — the sadness of the 
day without its strength. Macbeth is the prey of a pro- 
found world-weariness. And while a huge ennui pur- 
sues crime, the criminal is not yet in utter blackness of 
night. When the play opens, the sun is already drop- 
ping below the verge. And as at sunset strange winds 
arise, and gather the clouds to westward with mysterious 
pause and stir, so the play of Macbeth opens with move- 
ment of mysterious, spiritual powers, which are auxiliary 
of that awful shadow which first creeps, and then strides 
across the moral horizon. 

It need hardly be once more repeated that the Witches 
of Macbeth are not the broom-stick witches of vulgar, 

Othello: Macbeth: Lear, 245 

popular tradition.* If they are grotesque, they are also 
sublime. The weird sisters of our dramatist may take 
their place beside the terrible old women of Michael 
Angelo, who spin the destinies of man. Shakspere is no 
more afraid than Michael Angelo of being vulgar. It is 
the feeble, sentimental-ideal artist who is nervous about 
the dignity of his conceptions, and who, in aiming at the 
great, attains only the grandiose ; he thins away aU that 

* The theory of Mesan Clark and Wright (Ckrendon Press edition 
of Macbeth) that the play is an alteration by Middleton of a tragedy of 
Shakspere, is accepted by Mr Fleay, and carried farther into detail 
(Transactions of the New Shakspere Society). Mr Fleay is of 
opinion that the witches around the caldron, ArX IV., Sctne. 1, are 
creations of Shakspere ; but he believes that they are entirely distinct 
from the three "weird sisters," the NornaB of AciX,^ Scene 3. He 
writes : *' In Holinshed we Jind that * Macbeth and Banquo were met 
by iij women in ftraunge and ferly apparell resembling creatures of an 
elder world ; * that they vanished ; that at iirst by Macbeth and Banqiin 
* they were reputed but some vayne fantasticall illusion,' but afterwards 
the common opinion was that they were * eyther the weird listers — 
that is, ye Oodde/ufea of destinU^or else some Nimphes or Feiries en- 
dewed with knowledge of prophesie by their Nicromanticall science ' " 
{Act IL, Scetu 2). But in the part corresponding to IV. 1, Macbeth is 
warned to take heed of Macduff by * certain wysardes ; * but he does 
not kill him, because ' a certain witch whom he had in great trust ' had 
given him two other equivocal predictions. Now, it is to me incredible 
that Shakspere, who in the parts of the play not rejected by the Cam- 
bridge editors never uses the word, or alludes to witches in any way, 
should have degraded ' ye Goddesses of destinie ' to three old women, 
who are called by Paddock and Grimalkin . . . sail in sieves, kill 
swine, serve Hecate, and deal in all the common charms, illusions, and 
incantations of vulgar witches. The three, who * look not like the in- 
habitants o' th' earth, and yet are on't ;' they who *can look into the seeds 
of time and say which grain will grow ; * they who * seem corporal,' but 
' melt into the air* like * bubbles of the earth ; * ' the weyward sisters,* 
who *make themselves air,' and have 'more than mortal knowledge,' 
an not beings of this stamp." Mr Fleay's difficulty is that, in III. iv. 
133, and IV. i. 136, Macbeth calls the witches of IV. I * the weird 
sisters,' and he acknowledges that he cannot at present solve this diffi 
culty. It i» hardly perhaps a sound method of criticism to invent a 
hypothesis, which creates an insoluble difficulty. 

246 Shakspere — His Miftd and A rt 

is positive and material, in the hope of discovering some 
novelty of shadowy horror. But the great ideal artists — 
Michael Angelo, Dante, Blake, Beethoven — see things 
far more dreadful than the vague horrors of the romantic- 
ist ; thqr are perfectly fearless in their use of the mate- 
rial, the definite, the gross, the so-called vulgar. And 
thus Shakspere fearlessly showed us his weird sisters, 
^' the goddesses of destinie " brewing infernal charms in 
their wicked cauldron. We cannot quite dispense in 
this life with ritualism, and the ritualism of evil is foul 
and ugly ; the hell-broth which the Witches are cooking 
bubbles up with no refined, spiritual poison ; the quint- 
essence of mischief is being brewed out of foul things, 
which can be enumerated; thick and slab the gruel 
must be made. Yet these weird sisters remain terrible 
and sublime. They tingle in every fibre with evil 
energy, as the tempest does with the electric current ; 
their malignity is inexhaustible ; they are weUs of siu 
springing up into everlasting death; they have their 
raptures and ecstasies in crime; they snatdi with de- 
light at the relics of impieiy and foul disease ; they are 
the awfiil inspirers of murder, insanity, suicide. , 

The weird sisters, says Qervinus, " are simply the em- 
bodiment of inward temptation." They are surely much 
more than this. If we must regard the entire universe 
as a manifestation of an imknown somewhat which lies 
behind it, we are compelled to admit that there is an 
apocalypse of power auxiliary to vice, as really as there is 
a manifestation of virtuous energy. AU venerable mytho- 
logies admit this fact. The Mephistopheles of Qoethe 
remains as the testimony of our scientific nineteenth 

Othello : Macbeth : Lear. 247 

century upon the matter. The history of the race, and 
the social medium in which we live and breathe, have 
created forces of good and evil which are independent of 
the will of each individual man and woman. The sins 
of past centuries taint the atmosphere of to-day. We 
move through the world subject to accumulated forces of 
evil and of good outside ourselves. We are caught up 
at times upon a stream of virtuous force, a beneficent 
current which bears us onward towards an abiding-place 
of joy, of purity, and of sacrifice; or a counter-current 
drifts us towards darkness, and cold, and death. And 
therefore no great realist in art has hesitated to admit 
the existence of what theologians name divine grace, 
and of what theologians name Satanic temptation. There 
is, in truth, no such thing as " naked manhood." The 
attempt to divorce ourselves from the large impersonal 
life of the world, and to erect ourselves into independent 
wills, is the dream of the idealist. And between the 
evil within and the evil without subsists a terrible sym- 
pathy and reciprocity. There is in the atmosphere a 
zymotic poison of sin ; and the constitution which is 
morally enfeebled supplies appropriate nutriment for the 
germs of disease ; while the hardy moral nature repels 
the same germs. Macbeth is infected ; Banquo passes 
free."^ Let us, then, not inquire after the names of these 
fatal sisters. Nameless they are, and sexless. It is 
enough to know that . such powers auxiliary to vice do 
exist outside ourselves, and that Shakspere was scientific- 
ally accurate in his statement of the fact. 

* Banquo, Merciful powers 

Restrain in me the cnrsed thoughts that nature 
Gives way to in repose ! 

248 Sfiakspere — His Mind and Art. 

But it is also by no means difficult to believe that in 
the mere matter of superstition, in all that relates to 
presentiments, dreams, omens, ghost belief, and such 
like, Shakspere would have failed to satisfy the require- 
ments of enlightened persons of to-day, who receive their 
reports of the universe through the scientific article in 
the newest' magazine : 

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, 
Than are dreamt of in year philosophy. 

" They SQ^y miracles are past ; " Lafeu is speaking in 
All's Well that ends Well, *' and we have our philosophical 
persons, to make modem and familiar, things super- 
natural and causeless. Hence is it, that we make 
trifles of terrors ; ensconcing ourselves into seeming 
knowledge, when we should submit ourselves to an 
unknown fear."* However we may account for it, the 
fact is unquestionable that some of the richest creative 
natures of the world have all their lives been believers, 
if not with their intellect, at least with their instinctive 
feelings and their imagination in much of the old-wives' 
lore of the nursery. Scott does not as a sceptic make 
use in his novels of ghostly and supernatural machinery 
merely for the sake of producing certain artistic effects. 
He retained at least a haJf-faith in the Gothic mythology 
of the north. Goethe for a time devoted himself to the 
pursuit of alchemy. In " The Spanish Gypsy " of 
George Eliot, from the necklace of Zarca dim mastering 
powers, blind yet strong, pass into his daughter's will ; 
and in that poem the science of modem psychology 

* Act n.t Scene 3. 

Othello: Macbeth: Lear. 249 

accepts certain of the facts of old superstitions, accepts 
them and explains them. We slighter and smaller 
natures can deprive ourselves altogether of the sense for 
such phenomena ; we can elevate ourselves into a rare 
atmosphere of intellectuality and incredulity. The 
wider and richer natures of creative artists have received 
too large an inheritance from the race, and have too 
fully absorbed all the influences of their environment for 
this to be possible in their case. While dim recollec- 
tions and forefeelings haunt their blood they cannot 
enclose themselves in a little pinfold of demonstrable 
knowledge, and call it the universe. 

" The true reason for the first appearance of the 
Witches," Coleridge has said, " is to strike the keynote 
of the character of the whole drama." They appear in 
a desert place, with thunder and lightning ; it is the 
barren and blasted place where evil has obtained the 
mastery of things. Observe that the last words of the 
witches, in the opening scene of the play, are the first 
words which Macbeth himself utters. 

Fair is foal and foul is fair 

Hover through the fog and filthy air.')*' 

Macbeth. " So foul and fair a day I have not seen." 
Shakspere intimates by this that although Macbeth has 
not yet set eyes upon these hags, the connection is 
already established between his soul and them. Their 
spells have already wrought upon his blood. When the 
three sisters meet Macbeth and Banquo upon the heath, 
it is Banquo to whom they are first visible in the grey, 

* Words uttered by all three witches, after each has singly spoken 

250 Shakspere — His Mind and A rL / 

northern air. To Banquo they are objective — ^they are 
outside himself, and he can observe and describe 
their strange aspect, their wild attire, and their 
mysterious gesture. Macbeth is rapt in silence, and 
then with eager longing demands, " Speak if you can : 
what are you ? " When they have given him the three 
Hails, as Glamis, as Cawdor, and as King, the Hail of 
the past, of the present, of the future, Macbeth starts. 
" It is a full revelation of his criminal aptitudes," Mr 
Hudson has well said, '' that so startles and surprises 
him into a rapture of meditation." And besides this, 
Macbeth is startled to find that there is a terrible 
correspondence established between the baser instincts of 
his own heart and certain awful external agencies of 

Shakspere does not believe in any sudden transforma- 
tion of a noble and loyal soul into that of a traitor and 
murderer. At the outset Macbeth possesses no real 
fidelity to things that are true, honest, just, pure, lovely. 
He is simply not yet in alliance with the powers of evil. 
He has aptitudes for goodness, and aptitudes for crime. 
Shakspere felt profoundly that this careless attitude of 
suspense or indifference between virtue and vice cannot 
continue long. The kingdom of heaven suffers violence, 
and the violent take it by force. Those who lack 
energy of goodness, and drop into a languid neutrality 
between the antagonist spiritual forces of the^ world must 
serve the devil as slaves, if they will not decide to serve 
Qod as freemen. 

But beside the vague yet mastering inspiration of 
crime received from the witches, there is the more 

Othello: Macbeth: Lear. 251 

definite inspiration received from his wife. Macbeth is 
excitably imaginative, and his imagination alternately 
stimulates, and enfeebles him. The facts in their clear- 
cut outline disappear in the dim atmosphere of surmise, 
desire, fear, hope, which the spirit of Macbeth effuses 
around the fact. But his wife sees things in the dearest 
and most definite outline. Her delicate frame is filled 
with high-stnmg nervous energy.* With her to perceive 
is forthwith to decide, to decide is to act. Having 
resolved upon her end a practical logic convinces her 
that the means are implied and determined. Macbeth 
resolves, and falters back from action ; now he is 
restrained by his imagination, now by his fears, now by 
lingering velleities towards a loyal and honourable exist- 
ence. He is unable to keep in check or put under 
restraint any one of the various incoherent powers of his 
nature, which impede and embarrass each the action of 
the other. Lady Macbeth gains, for the time, sufficient 
strength by throwing herself passionately into a single 
purpose, and by resolutely repressing all that is incon- 
sistent with that purpose. Into the service of evil she 
carries some of the intensity and energy of asceticism, — 
she cuts off from herself her better nature, she yields to 

* "According to my notion,'* Mrs Siddons wrote, " [Lady Macbeth't 
beauty] is of that character which I believe is generally allowed to be 
meet captivating to the other sex — fair, feminine, nay, perhaps, even 
fragile.*' Dr BuckniU (before he was aware that Mrs Siddons held a 
similar opinion) wrote, " Lady Macbeth was a lady beautiful and deli- 
cate, whose one vivid passion proves that her organisation was instinct 
with nerve-force, unoppressed by weight of fleeh. Probably she was 
amaU ; for it is the smaller sort of women whose emotional ^x% is the 
most fierce, and she herself bears unconscious testimony to the fact 
that her hand was little." — Mad Folk of Shakespeare, p. 45. She is 
Macbeth's *< dearest chuck." 

252 Shakspere — His Mind and A rt, 

no weak paltering with conscience. "I have given 
suck," she exclaims, " and know how tender 'tis to love 
the babe that milks me ; " she is unable to stab Duncan 
because he resembles her father in his sleep ; she is 
appalled by the copious blood in which the old man lies, and 
the horror of the sight clings to her memory ; the smell 
of the blood is hateAil to her and almost insupportable ; 
she had not been without apprehension that her feminine 
nature might fail to carry her through the terrible 
ordeal, through which she yet resolved that it should be 
compelled to pass. She must not waste an atom of her 
strength of will, which has to serve for two murderers, — 
for her husband as well as for herself. She puts into 
requisition with the aid of wine and of stimulant words 
the reserve of nervous force which lay unused. No 
witches have given her " Hail ; " no airy dagger marshals 
her the way that she is going; nor is she afterwards 
haunted by the terrible vision of Banquo*s gory head. 
As long as her will remains her own she can throw her- 
self upon external facts and maint^,in herself in relation 
v^th the definite, actual surroundings ; it is in her sleep, 
when the will is incapable of action, that she is 
persecuted by the past which perpetually renews itself, 
not in ghostly shapes, but by the imagined recur- 
rence of real and terrible incidents. 

The fears of Lady Macbeth upon the night of Dun- 
can's murder are the definite ones, that the murderers 
may be detected, that some omission in the pre- 
arranged plan may occur, that she or her husband 
may be summoned to appear before the traces of their 
crime have been removed. More awful considerations 

Othello: Macbeth: Lear, * 253 

would press in upon her and overwhelm her sanity, hut 
that she forcibly repels them for the time : 

These deeds must not be thought 
After these ways ; so, it will make ns mad. 

To her the sight of Duncan dead is as terrible as to 
Macbeth ; but she takes the daggers from her husband ; 
and with a forced jest, hideous in the self-violence which 
it implies, she steps forth into the dark corridor : 

If he do bleed 
III gild the faces of the grooms withal 
For it must seem their guilt. 

" A play of fancy here is like a gleam of ghastly sun- 
shine striking across a stormy landscape." * The knock- 
ing at the gate clashes upon her overstrained nerves 
and thrills her ; but she has determination and energy to 
direct the actions of Macbeth, and rouse him from the 
mood of abject depression which succeeded his crime. 
A white flame of resolution glows through her delicate 
organisation, like light through an alabaster lamp : 

Infirm of purpose ! 
Give me the daggers : the sleeping and the dead 
Are but as pictures : 'tis the eye of childhood 
That fears a painted devil. 

If the hold which she possesses over her own faculties 
should relax for a moment all would be lost. For 
dreadftil deeds anticipated and resolved upon, she has 
strength, but the surprise of a novel horror, on which 
she has not counted, deprives her suddenly of conscious- 
ness ; when Macbeth announces his butchery of Duncan's 

* Macbeth, Clarendon Press Edition, p. 108. 

254 Skakspere — His Mind and A rL 

grooms, the lady swoons, — not in feigning but in fact,^ — 
and is borne away insensible. 

Macbeth wastes himself in vague, imaginative re- 
morse : 

WDl not great Neptone^s ocean wash this blood 
Glean from my hand? No, this my hand will rather 
The mnltitudinotis seas incarnadine, 
Making the green one red. 

Thus his imagination serves to dissipate the impression 
of his conscience. What is the worth of this vague, 
imaginative remorse? Macbeth retained enough of 
goodness to make him a haggard, miserable criminal; 
never enough to restrain him from a crime. His hand 
soon became subdued to what it worked in, — ^the blood 
in which it paddled and plashed. And yet the loose 
incoherent faculties ever becoming more and more 
disorganised and disintegrated somehow held together 
till the end. *' My hands are of your colour," exclaims 
Lady Macbeth ; " but I shame to wear a heart so white. 
A little water clears us of this deed." Yet it is she who 
has uttered no large words about '' the multitudinous 
seas," who will rise in slumbery agitation, and with her 
accustomed action eagerly essay to remove from her little 
hand its ineffaceable stain, and with her delicate sense 
sicken at the smell of blood upon it, which "all the 
perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten ; " and last, will 
loosen the terrible constriction of her heart with a sigh 
that longs to be perpetual. It is the queen, and not 
her husband who is slain by conscience. 

Yet the soul of Macbeth never quite disappears into the 
blackness of darkness. He is a cloud without water car- 

Othello: Macbeth: Lear, 255 

ried about of winds ; a tree whose fruit withers, but not 
even to the last quite plucked up by the roots. For the 
dull ferocity of Macbeth is joyless. All his life has 
gone irretrievably astray, and he is aware of this. His 
suspicion becomes uncontrollable ; his reign is a reign of 
terror ; and as he drops deeper and deeper into the 
solitude and the gloom, his sense of error and misfortune, 
futile and unproductive as that sense is, increases. He 
lives imder a dreary cloud, and all things look gray and 
cold. He has lived long enough, yet he clings to life ; 
that which should accompany old age '' as honour, love, 
obedience, troops of friends," he may not look to have. 
Finally his sensibility has grown so dull that even the 
intelligence of his wife's death, — the death of her who 
had been bound to him by such close communion in 
crime, — hardly moves him, and seems little more than 
one additional incident in the weary, meaningless tale of 
human life : 

She Bhoald hare died hereafter ; ' 
There would have been a time for such a word. 
To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow, 
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day 
To the last syllable of recorded time ; 
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools 
The way to dosty death. Out, out, brief candle I 
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player 
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage, 
And then is heard no more ; it is a tale 
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, 
Signifying nothing. 

This world-weariness, which has not the energy of 
Timon's despair, is yet less remote from the joy and 
glory of true living than is the worm-like vivacity of 

256 Shakspere — His Mind and A rt, 

lago. Macbeth remembers that he once knew there was 
such a thing as human goodness. He stands a haggard 
shadow against the handsbreadth of pale sky which 
yields us suflScient light to see him. But lago rises 
compact with fiend-like energy, seen brightly in the god- 
less glare of hell. The end of Macbeth is savage, and 
almost brutal — a death without honour or loveliness. 
He fights now not like " Bellona's bridegroom lapp*d in 
proof," but with a wild and animal clinging to life : 

They have tied me to a stake ; I cannot fly, 
But, bear-like, I must fight the course. 

His followers desert him ; he feels himself taken in a 
trap. The powers of evil in which he had trusted turn 
against him and betray him. His courage becomes a 
desperate rage. We are in pain until the horrible 
necessity is accomplished. 

Shakspere pursues Macbeth no farther. He does not 
follow him with yearning conjecture, as Mr Browning 
follows the murderer of his poem, " The Ring and the 

Into that sad obscure sequestered state, 
Where God unmakes but to re-make the soul 
He else made first in vain. 

Qur feet remain on solid Scottish earth. But a 
• ^ neV and better era of history dawns. Macbeth and 
, Seyton's son lie dead ; but the world goes on. The 
tragic deeds take up their place in the large life of a 
country. We sufiFer no dejection; "the time is firee." 
Saneljuid strong, we expect the day when Malcolm will 
be crowned at Scone. 

Othello: Macbeth: Lear. 257 


The tragedy of King Lear was estimated by Shelley, in 
his Defence of Poetry, as an equivalent in modem litera- 
ture for the trilogy in the literature of Greece with which 
the (Edipus Tyrannus, or that with which the Agamem- 
non stands connected. King Lear is, indeed, the greatest 
single achievement in poetry of the Teutonic, or northern 
geniua By its largeness of conception, and the variety I 
of its details, by its revelation of a har mony e xisting 
between the forces _of nature and the passions of man, | 
by its grotesqueness and its sublimity, it owns kinship 
with the great cathedrals of Gothic architecture. To 
conceive, to compass, to comprehend, at once in its 
stupendous unity and in its almost endless variety, a 
building like the cathedral of Eheims or that of Cologne 
is a feat which might seem to defy the most athletic 
imagination. But the impression which Shakspere'a 
tragedy produces, while equally large — almost monstrous 
— and equally intricate, lacks the material fixity and 
determinateness of that produced by these great works 
in ston^. Everything in the tragedy is in motion, and 
the motion is that of a tempest. A grotesque head, 
which was peering out upon us from a point near at 
hand, suddenly changes its place and its expression, and 
now is seen driven or fading away into the distance with 
lips and eyes that, instead of grotesque, appear sad and 
pathetic. All that we see around us is tempestuously 
whirling and heaving, yet we are aware that a law pre- 
sides over this vicissitude and apparent incoherence. 
We are confident that there is a logic of the tempest. 


258 Skakspere — His Mind and Art, 

While each thing appears to be torn from its proper 
place, and to have lost its natural supports and stays, 
instincts, passions, reason all wrenched and contorted, 
yet each thing in this seeming chaos takes up its place 
with infallible assurance and precision. 

In King Lear, more than in any other of his plays, 
Shakspere stands in presence of the mysteries of human 
life. A more impatient intellect would have proposed 
explanations of these. A less robust spirit would have 
permitted the dominant tone of the play to become an 
eager or pathetic wistfulness respecting the significance 
of these hard riddles in the destiny of man. Shakspere 
checks such wistful curiosity, though it exists discem- 
ibly ; he will present life as it is ; if life proposes inex- 
plicable riddles, Shakspere's art must propose them also. 
But while Shakspere will present life as it is, and suggest 
no inadequate explanations of its diflScult problems, he 
will gaze at life not only from within, but, if possible, 
also from an extra-mundane, extra-human point of view, 
and gazing thence at life, will try to discern what aspect 
this fleeting and wonderfid phenomenon presents to the 
eyes of gods. Hence a grand irony in the tragedy of 
Lear ; hence all in it that is great is also small ; all 
that is tragically sublime is also grotesque. Hence it 
sees man walking in a vain shadow; groping in the 
mist ; committing extravagant mistakes ; wandering from 
light into darkness ; stumbling back again from darkness 
into light ; spending his strength in barren and impotent 
rages ; man in his weakness, his unreason, his affliction, 
his anguish, his poverty and meanness, his everlasting 
greatness and majesty. Hence, too, the characters, while 

Othello: Macbeth: Lear. 259 

they remain individual men and women, are id^. r§Bre- 
sentative, typical ; Goneril and Regan, the destructive 
force, the rayemng-figQiam in humanity which is at war 
with all goodness ; Kent, a clear, unmingled fidelity ; Cor- 
delia, unmingled tenderness and strength, a pnre-tedeem- 
ia g^ ardou r. As we read the play, we are haunted by a 
presence of something beyond the story of a suflfering 
old man; we become dimly aware that the play has 
some vast impersonal significance, like the Prometheus 
Bound of JEschylus, and like Goethe's Faust. We 
seem to gaze upon " huge, cloudy symbols of some high 

What was irony when human life was viewed from 
the outside, extra-mundane point of view, becomes, when 
life is viewed from within, Stoicism. For to Stoicism 
the mere phenomenon of human existence is a vast piece 
of unreason and grotesqueness, and from this unreason 
and grotesqueness Stoicism makes its escape by becoming 
indifferent to the phenomenon, and by devotion to the 
moral idea, the law of the soul, which is for ever one 
with itself, and with the highest reason. The_e4hica- of 
the play o f Kingjjear .are . StaicaL ethics. Shakspere's 
fidelity to the fact will allow him to deny no pain or 
calamity that befalls man. " There was never yet philo- 
sopher that could endure the toothache patiently." * 
He knows that it is impossible to 

Fetter strong madness in a silken thread, 
Charm ache with air, and agony with words. 

He admits the suffering, the weakness of humanity ; but 
• Much Ado about Nothing, Act V., iSce.nt 1. 

26o Shakspere — His Mind and Art 

he declares that in the inner law there is a constraining 
power stronger than a silken thread ; in the fidelity of 
pure hearts, in the rapture of love and sacrifice there is 
a charm which is neither air nor words, but indeed 
potent enough to subdue }>ain, and make calamity ac- 
ceptable. Cordelia, who utters no word in excess of her 
actual feeling, can declare, as she is led to prison, her 
calm and decided acceptance of her lot : 

We are not the first 
Who, with best meaning, have incurred the worst ; 
For thee, oppressed King, I am cast down ; 
Myself could else out-frown false fortune^s frown.*^ 

But though ethical principles radiate through the play 
of Lear its chief function is not, even indirectly, to teach 
or inculcate moral truth, but rather by the direct pre- 
sentation of a vision of human life and of the enveloping 
forces of nature, to " free, arouse, dilate." We may be 
unable to set down in words any set of truths which we 
have been taught by the drama. But can we set down 
in words the precise moral significance of a fugue of 
Handel, or a symphony of Beethoven ? We are kindled 
and aroused by them ; our whole nature is quickened ; 
it passes from the habitual, hard, encrusted, and cold 
condition into " the fluid and attaching state," the state 
in which we do not seek truth and beauty, but attract 
and are sought by them, the state in which "good 
thoughts stand before us like free children of God, and 

* Compare also, as expressing the mood in which calamity must be 
confronted, the words of Kdgar, — 

Men must endure 
Their going hence, even as their coming hither ; 
Bipeness is alL 


Othello: Macbeth: Lear. 261 

cry ' We are come/ " * The play or the piece of music 
is not a code of precepts, or a body of doctrine ;f it is 
" a focus where a number of vital forces unite in their 
purest energy." 

In the play of King Lear we come into contact with 
the imagination, the heart, the soul of Shakspere, at a 
moment when they attained their most powerful and 
intense vitality. " He was here," Hazlitt wrote, " fairly 
caught in the web of his own imagination." And being 
thus aroused about deeper things, Shakspere did not in 
this play feel that mere historical verisimilitude was of 
chief importance. He found the incidents recorded in 
history, and ballad, and drama ; he accepted them as he 
found them. Our imagination must grant Shakspere 
certain postulates, those which the story that had taken 
root in the hearts of the people already specified. The 
old "Chronicle History of King Leir," had assigned 
ingenious motives for the apparently improbable conduct 
ascribed to the King. He resolves that upon Cordelia's 
protesting that she loves him, he will say, "Then, 
daughter, grant me one request, — accept the husband I 
have chosen for you," and thus he will take her at a 
vantage. It would have been easy for Shakspere to 
have secured this kind of verisimilitude ; it would have 
been easy for him to have referred the conduct of Lear 
to ingeniously invented motives; he could, if he had 

* Goethe*B Conversations with Eckermann, Feb. 24, 1824. 

+ Flathe, who ordinarily finds aU preceding critics wrong, and him- 
self profoundly right, discovers in King Lear Shakspere*s « warning 
letter against naturalism and pseudo-rationalism;" the play is trans- 
lated into a didactic discourse on infidelity. 

262 Shakspere — His Mind aftd Art, 

chosen, by psychological fence have turned aside the 
weapons of those assailants who lay to his charge 
improbability and unnaturalness. But then the key- 
note of the play would have been struck in another 
mode. Shakspere did not at all care to justify himself 
by special pleading and psychological fence. The 
sculptor of the Laocoon has not engraved below his 
group the lines of Virgil, which describe the progress of 
the serpent toward his victims ; he was interested in 
the supreme moment of the father's agony, and in the 
piteous effort and unavailing appeal of the children. 
Shakspere, in accordance with his dramatic method, 
drove forward across the intervening accidents toward 
the passion of Lear in all its stages, his wild revolt 
against humanity, his conflict with the powers of night 
and tempest, his restoration through the sacred balm of 
a daughter s love. 

Nevertheless, though its chief purpose be to get the 
forces of the drama into position before their play upon 
one another begins, the first scene cannot be incoherent. 
In the opening sentence Shakspere gives us clearly to 
understand that the partition of the kingdom between 
Albany and Cornwall is already accomplished. In the 
concluding sentences we are reminded of Lear's " incon- 
stant starts," of " the unruly waywardness that infirm 
and choleric years bring with them." It is evidently 
intended that we should imderstand the demand made 
upon his daughters for a profession of their love to have 
been a sudden freak of self-indulged waywardness, in 
which there was something of jest, something of unreason, 
something of the infirmity which requires demonstrations 

Othello: Macbeth: Lear, 263 

of the heart.* Having made the demand, however, it 
must not be refused. Lear's will must be opposeless. 
It is the centre, and prime force of his little universe. 
To be thrown out of this passionate wilfulness, to be 
made a passive thing, to be stripped first of affection, 
then of power, then of home or shelter, last, of reason 
itself, and finally, to learn the preciousness of true love 
only at the moment when it must be for ever renounced, 
— such is the awful and purifying ordeal through which 
Lear is compelled to pass. 

Shakspere " takes ingratitude," Victor Hugo has said, 
" and he gives this monster two heads, Goneril . 
and Regan." The two terrible creatures are, however, 
distinguishable. Goneril is the calm wielder of a 
pitiless force, the resolute initiator of cruelty. Regan is a 
smaller, shriller, fiercer, more eager piece of malice. 

* Coleridge writes, " The first four or five lines of the pky let ns know 
that the trial is but a trick ; and that the grossness of the old King's 
rage is in part the natural result of a silly trick suddenly and most 
unexpectedly baffled and disappointed." Dr fiuckniU maintains that 
the partition of the kingdom is " the first act of Lear's developing 
insanity. " Shakespeare Jahrbuch, vol. ii., contains a short and interest- 
ing article by Uhrici on "Ludwig Devrient as King Lear." That great 
actor, if Ulrici might trust his own impression, would seem to have 
understood the first scene of the play in the sense in which Ulrici 
himself explains it, viz., that Lear's demand for a declaration of his 
daughters' love was sudden and sportive, made partly to pass the time 
until the arrival of Burgundy and France. Having assigned their 
portions to Goneril and Regan there could not be a serious meaning in 
Lear's words to Cordelia, — 

What can you say to draw 
A third more opulent than your sisters? 
The words were said with a smile, yet at the same time with a secret 
and clinging desire for the demonstration of love demanded. All the 
more is Lear surprised and oJSended by Cordelia's earnest and almost 
judicial reply. But Cordelia is at once suppressing and in this way 
manifesting her indignation against her sisters' heartless flattery. 

2 6\ Shakspere — His Mind and A rt. 

The tyranny of the elder sister is a cold, persistent 
pressure, as little affected by tenderness or scruple as 
the action of some crushing hammer ; Ryan's ferocity is 
more unmeasured, and less abnormal or monstrous. 
Began would avoid her father, and while she confronts 
him alone, quails a little as she hears the old man's 
curse pronounced against her sister : 

the blest gods 1 bo will you wish on me 
When the rash mood is on. 

But Goneril knows that a helpless old man is only a 

helpless old man, that words are merely words. When, 

after Lear's terrible malediction, he rides away with his 

train, Goneril, who would bring things to an issue, 

pursues her father, determined to see matters out to the 

end.* To complete the horror they produce in us, 

these monsters are amorous. Their love is even more 

hideous than their hate. The wars of 

Dragons of the prime 
That tare each other in their slime 

formed a spectacle less prodigious than their mutual 

blandishments and caresses. 

Regan, I know your lady does not love her husband ; 
I am sure of that : and at her late being here 
She gave strange ceillades and most speaking looks 
To noble Edmund. 

To the last Goneril is true to her character. Began 
is despatched out of life by her sister ; Goneril thrusts 
her own life aside, and boldly enters the great dark- 
ness of the grave. 

* It is Goneril who first suggests the plucking out of Gloucester's 
eyes. The points of contrast between the sisters are well brought out 
by Gervinus. 

Othello: Macbeth: Lear. 265 

Of the secondary plot of this tragedy — ^the story of 
Gloucester and hig sons — Schlegel has explained one 
chief significance : '* Were Lear alone to suffer from his 
daughters, the impression would be limited to the power- 
ful compassion felt by us for his private misfortune. 
But two such unheard-of examples taking place at the 
same time have the appearance of a great commotion in 
the moral world ; the picture becomes gigantic, and fills 
us with such alarm as we should entertain at the idea 
that the heavenly bodies might one day fall from their 
appointed orbits." * The treachery of Edmund, and the 
torture to which Gloucester is subjected, are out of the 
course of familiar experience ; but they are commonplace 
and prosaic in comparison with the inhumanity of the 
sisters, and the agony of Lear. When we have climbed 
the steep ascent of Gloucester's mount of passion, we see 
still above us another via dolorosa leading to that 

Wall of eagle-baffling mountain, 
Black, wintry, dead^ unmeasured, 

to which Lear is chained. Thus the one story of horror 
serves as a means of approach to the other, and helps us 
to conceive its magnitude. The two, as Schlegel 
observes, produce the impression of a great commotion 
in the moral world. The thunder which breaks over 
our head does not suddenly cease to resound, but is 
reduplicated, multiplied, and magnified, and rolls away 
with long reverberation. 

Shakspere also desires to augment the moral mystery, 
the grand inexplicableness of the play. We can assign 

* Lectures on Dramatic Art, translated by J. !Black, p. 412. 


266 Shakspere — His Mind and Art 

causes to explain the evil in Edmund's heart. His 

birth is shameful, and the brand bums into his heart 

and brain. He has been throym abroad in the world, 

and is constrained by none of the bonds of nature, or 

memory, of habit or association.* A hard, sceptical 

intellect, uninspired and unfed by the instincts of the 

heart, can easily enough reason away the consciousness 

^of obligations the most sacred. Edmimd's thought is 

active as a virulent acid, eating its rapid way through 

all the tissues of human sentiment." + His mind is 

destitute of dread of the Divine Nemesis. Like lago, 

like Richard III., he finds the regulating force of the 

universe in the ego — in the individual will. But that 

terror of the imseen which Edmimd scorned as so much 

superstition is "the initial recognition of a moral law 

restraining desire, and checks the hard bold scrutiny of 

imperfect thought into obligations which can never be 

proved to have any sanctity in the absence of feeling." 

We can, therefore, in some degree account for Edmund's 

bold egoism and inhumanity. What obligation should a 

child feel to the man who, for a moment's selfish 

pleasure, had degraded and stained his entire life ? In 

like manner Gloucester's sufferings do not appear to us 

inexplicably mysterious. 

The gods are just, and of our pleasant vices 
Make instruments to plague us ; 
The dark and vicious place where thee he got 
Cost him his eyes. 

* Gloucester (^c^ i., Sce^M, 1) says of Edmund, "He hath been out 
nine years and away he shall again." 

t This and the quotation next following will be remembered by 
readers of Romola; they occur in that memorable chapter entitled 
"Tito's Dilemma.'' 

Othello: Macbeth: Lear. 267 

But having gone to the end of our tether, and 
explained all that is explicable we are met by enigmas 
which will not be explained. We were perhaps some- 
what too ready to 

Take upon us the mystery of tluDgs 
As if we were God^s spies.* 

Now we are bafHed, and bow the head in silence. Is it 

indeed the stars that govern our condition ? Upon 

what theory shall we account for the sisterhood of a 

Goneril and a Cordelia ? And why is it that Gloucester, 

whose suffering is the retribution for past misdeeds, 

should be restored to spiritual calm and light, and 

should pass away in a rapture of mingled gladness, and 


His flaw'd heart, 
Alack ! too weak the conflict to support ! 
'Twixt two extremes of passion, joy, and grief, 
Burst smilingly, — 

while Lear, a man more sinned against than sinning, 
should be robbed of the comfort of Cordelia's love, should 
be stretched to the last moment upon " the rack of this 
tough world," and should expire in the climax of a 
paroxysm of unproductive anguish ? 

Shakspere does not attempt to answer these questions. 
The impression which the facts themselves produce, 
their influence to " free, arouse, dilate," seems to 
Shakspere more precious than any proposed explanation 
of the facts which cannot be verified. The heart is 
purified not by dogma, but by pity and terror. But 
there are other questions which the play suggests. If it 

• Words of Lear, ^c< v., Scene 3. 

268 Shakspere — His Mind and Art. 

be the stars that govern our conditions, if that be indeed 
a possibility which Gloucester in his first shock and con- 
fusion of mind declares, 

As flies to waDton boys are we to the gods; 
They kill us for their sport, 

if, measured by material standards, the innocent and the 
guilty perish by a like fate, — what then ? Shall we 
yield ourselves to the lust for pleasure ? shall we organise 
our lives upon the principles of a studious and pitiless 
egoism ? 

To these questions the answer of Shakspere is clear 
and emphatic. Shall we stand upon Groneril's side, or 
upon that of Cordelia ? Shall we join Edgar, or join the 
traitor? Shakspere opposes the presence and the 
influence of evil not by any transcendental denial of evil 
but by the presence of human virtue, fidelity, and self- 
sacrificial love. In no play is there a clearer, an 
intenser manifestation of loyal manhood, of strong and 
tender womanhood. The devotion of Kent to his 
master is a passionate, unsubduable devotion, which 
might choose for its watchword the saying of Goethe, 
" I love you ; what is that to you ? " Edgar's nobility 
of nature, is not disguised by the beggar s rags ; he 
is the skilful resister of evil, the champion of right to 
the utterance. And if Goneril and Regan alone would 
leave the world unintelligible and desperate, there is 

One daughter 
Who redeems Nature from the general curse 
Which twain have brought her to. 

We feel throughout the play that ^yil is abnormal j a 
curse which brings down destruction upon itself; that it 

Othello: Macbeth: Lear. 269 

is without any long career ; that evil-doer is at variance 
with evil-doer. • But good is normal ; for it the career is 
long; and ''all honest and good men are disposed to 
befriend honest and good men, as such." "^ 

CordeUa, thou good Kent, how shall I live, and work, 

To match thy goodness I My life will be too short 

And every measure fail me. 
Kent. To be acknowledged, madam, is overpaid. 

All my reports go with the modest truth ; 

Nor more, nor clipped, but so. 

Nevertheless, when everything has been said that can 
be said to make the world intelligible, when we have 
striven our utmost to realise all the possible good that 
exists in the world, a need of fortitude remains. 

It is worthy of note that each of the principal person- 
ages of the play is brought into presence of those mysteri- 
ous powers which dominate life, and preside over human 
destiny ; and each according to his character is made to 
offer an interpretation of the great riddle. Of these in- 
terpretations, none. is adequate to account for all the 
facts. Shakspere (differing in this from the old play) 
placed the story in heathen times, partly, we may sur- 
mise, that he might be able to put the question boldly, 
" What are the gods ? " Edmimd, as we have seen, 
discovers no power or authority higher than the will of 
the individual, and a hard trenchant intellect. In the 
opening of the play he utters his ironical appeal : 

I grow ; I prosper — 
Now gods stand up for bastards.t 

• Butler. Analogy, Part 1, chap. iiL 

t Compare Edmund's words (uttered with inward scorn) spoken of 

I told him the revenging gods 
'Gainst parricides did all their thunders bend. 

2 70 Skakspere — His Mind and Art 

It is not until he is mortally wounded, with his brother 
standing over him, that the recognition of a moral law 
forces itself painfully upon his consciousness, and he 
makes his bitter confession of faith : 

The wheel is come full circle, I am here. 

His self-indulgent father is, after the manner of the self- 
indulgent, prone to superstition ; and Gloucester's super- 
stition aflfords some coimtenance to Edmund's scepticism. 
*' This is the excellent foppery of the world, that when 
we are sick in fortune — often the surfeit of our own 
behaviour — ^we make guilty of our disasters the sun, the 
moon, and the stars, as if we were villains by necessity ; 
fools by heavenly compulsion ; knaves, thieves, and 
treachers, by spherical predominance ; drunkards, liars, 
and adulterers, by an enforced obedience of planetary in- 
fluence ; and all that we are evil in, by a divine thrust- 

•Edgar, on the contrary, the champion of right, ever 
active in opposing evil and advancing the good cause, 
discovers that the gods are upon the side of right, are 
unceasingly at work in the vindication of truth, and the 
execution of justice. His faith lives through trial and 
disaster, a flame which will not be quenched. And he 
buoys up, by virtue of his own energy of soul, the spirit 
of his father, which, unprepared for calamity, is stagger- 
ing blindly, stunned from its power to think, and ready 
to sink into darkness, and a welter of chaotic disbelief. 
Gloucester, in his first confusion of spirit, exclaims bitterly 
against the divine government : 

As flies to wanton boys are we to the gods ; 
They kill ns for their sport. 

Othello: Macbeth: Lear. 271 

But before the end has come he *' shakes patiently his 
great affliction off ; " he will not quarrel with the " great 
opposeless wills " of the gods ; nay, more than this, he 
can identify his own will with theirs, he can accept life 
contentedly at their hands, or death. The words of 
Edgar find a response in his own inmost heart : 

Thou happY father 
Think that the clearest gods, who make them honours 
Of men's impossibilities, have preserved thee. 

And as Edgar, the justiciary, finds in the gods his fellow- 
workers in the execution of justice, so Cordelia, in whose 
heart love is a clear and perpetual illumination, can turn 
for assistance and co-operancy in her deeds of love to the 
strong and gentle rulers of the world : 

you kind gods, 
Cure this great breach in his abused nature. 

Kent possesses no vision, like that which gladdens 
Edgar, of a divine providence. His loyalty to right has 
something in it of a desperate instinct, which persists in 
spite of the appearances presented by the world. Shak- \ 
spere would have us know that there is not any devotion ; 
to truth, to justice, to charity more intense and real than ' 
that of the man who is faithful to them, out of the sheer ; 
spirit of loyalty, unstimulated and unsupported by any 
faith which can be called theological. Kent, who has 
seen the vicissitude of things, knows of no higher power 
presiding over the events of the world than fortune. 
Therefore, all the more, Kent clings to the passionate 
instinct of right-doing, and to the hardy temper, the 
fortitude which makes evil, when it happens to come. 

2 72 Shakspere — His Mind and A rt. 

endurable. It is Kent, who utters his thought in the 

words : 

Xothing almost sees miracles 
But misery. 

And the miracle he sees, in his distress, is the approach- 
ing succour from France, and the loyalty of Cordelia's 
spirit. It is Kent again, who, characteristically making 
the best of an unlucky chance, exclaims, as he settles 
himself to sleep in the stocks, 

Fortane, good night ; smile once more, turn thy wheel 
And again : 

It is the stars. 
The stars above ns, govern our conditions. 

And again (of Lear) : 

If Fortane brag of two she lov^d and hated, 
One of them we behold. 

Accordingly there is at once an exquisite tenderness 
in Kent s nature, and also a certain roughness and hard- 
ness, needful to protect from the shocks of life, the 
tenderness of one who finds no refuge in communion with 
the higher powers, or in a creed of religious optimism. 

But Lear himself — the central figure of the tragedy — 

what of him? What of suflfering humanity that 

wanders from the darkness into light, and from the 

flight into the darkness ? Lear is grandly passive — 

I played upon by all the manifold forces of nature 

land of society. And though he is in part delivered 

from his imperious self-will, and learns at last what 

true love is, and that it exists in the world — Lear 

passes away from our sight, not in any mood of resigna- 

Othello: Macbeth: Lear. 273 

tion, or faith, or illuminated peace, but in a piteous 
agony of yearning for that love which he had found only 
to lose for ever. Does Shakspere mean to contrast the 
pleasure in a demonstration of spurious affection in the 
first scene, with the agonised cry for real love in the last 
scene, and does he wish us to understand .that the true 
gain from the bitter discipline of Learns old age, was 
precisely this — ^his acquiring a supreme need of what 
is best, though a need which finds, as far as we can 
learn, no satisfaction ? 

We guess at the spiritual significance of the great 
tragic facts of the world, but after our guessing their 
mysteriousness remains. 

Our estimate of this drama as a whole, Mr Hudson 
has said, depends very much on the view we take of the 
Fool ; and Mr Hudson has himself understood Lear's 
" poor boy " with such delicate sympathy that to arrive 
at precisely the right point of view we need not go 
beyond his words. "I know not how I can better 
describe the Fool than as the soul of pathos in a 
sort of comic masquerade ; one in whom fun and frolic 

are sublimed and idealized into tragic beauty His 

* labouring to outjest Lear's heart-struck injuries ' tells us 
that his wits are set a-dancing by grief; that his jests 
bubble up from the depths of a heart struggling with 
pity and sorrow, as foam enwreaths the face of deeply- 
troubled waters There is all along a shrinking, 

velvet-footed delicacy of step in the Fools antics, as if 
awed by the holiness of the ground ; and he seems bring- 
ing diversion to the thoughts, that he may the better 
steal a sense of woe into the heart And I am not clear 


2 74 Shakspere—His Mind and Art. 

whether the inspired antics that sparkle from the surface 
of his mind are in more impressive contrast with the 
dark tragic scenes into which they are thrown, like 
rockets into a midnight tempest, or with the under- 
cmrent of deep tragic thoughtfulness out of which they 
falteringly issue and play." * 

Of the tragedy of King Lear a critic wishes to say as 
little as may be ; for in the case of this play, words are 
more than ordinarily inadequate to express or describe its 
true impression. A tempest or a dawn will not be 
analysed in words ; we must feel the shattering fury of 
the gale, we must watch the cahn light broadening.f 

•Shakespeare's life, Art, and ChapacterB,voLiL, pp. 361-62- What 
follows, too long to quote, is also excellent. 

..w^- '^'•^'" Hugo's Tolmne of dithyiamWc prophesying entitled 
onl^r '^'^f«P«7' » P«««« "Pon King Lear (ed. 1869. pp. 
205-209) IS particnhtfly note-worthy. His point of view-that toe 
tragedy is Cordelia," not " King Lear," that the old King is only an 
occasion for his daughter-is absolutely wrong ; but the criticism, not- 
withstanding, catches laigeness and passion from the play. " Et quelle 
figure que le pAre I queUe cariatide ! C'est l-homme courb4. 11 ne fair 
que changer de fardeaux, toujours plus IoukIs. Plus le vieillard faibHt 
plus le poids augmente. D Tit sons la surcharge, n porta d'abord 
fZTl ^"% 1 ""S^^'^^ P«!» I'i»oIement. puis le d^s^oir. puis U 
faun et la soif, puu la folie, puis toute la nature. Lea nu4 ^ennent 
sur sa «te, les for«ts I'accablent d'ombre. I'ouragan "'atLt ^^^J 
nuque. lorage plombe «m manteau, la pluie ptee sur ses ^paules. U 
marcbe pW et hagard, comme s'il avait les deux genoux de Wrt sJ! 
son dos. Ep^u et immense, il jette aux bourrasques et aux gr«les^ 
en epique: Pourquo me hai«^-vous, tempfites, pou«S me^ 

s ^temt, la raison se dteourage. et .'en y», Lear est en enfanU. 2] 

parait Son umque fille. Coi^elia. Car les deux autreTlleSie et 
Gonenl ne sont plus ses fille. que de la quantity n^oesS ^TavoS 
droit au nom de parriddes," For the deecriptiTT'^r^otlh^ 

Othello: Macbeth: Lear. 275 

And the sensation experienced by the reader of King 
Lear resembles that produced by some grand natural 
phenomenon. The effect cannot be received at second 
hand ; it cannot be described ; it can hardly be sug- 

* In addition to the medical etadies of Lear's case by Dooton Buck- 
nill and Kellogg, we may mention the '* Konig Lear " of Dr Carl Stark, 
(Stnttgart, 1871) favonrably noticed in Shakespeare Jahrbuch, Vol. vi., 
and again by Meissner in his study of the play, Shakespeare Jahrbnch, 
VoL vii, pp. 110-116. 




The two books which contributed the largest material 
towards the building-up of Shakspere's art-structure 
were the Chronicles of Holinshed, a quarry worked 
by the poet previous to 1600; and North's trans- 
lation of Plutarch's Lives, a quarry worked after 
1600. To this latter source we owe Julius 
Caesar, Coriolanus, Antony and Cleopatra, and, in 
part, Timon of Athens. Shakspere treated the 
material which lay before him in Holinshed and in 
Plutarch with reverent care. It was not a happy falsify- 
ing of the facts of history to which he, as dramatist, 
aspired, but an imaginative rendering of the very facts 
themselves. Plutarch he follows even more studiously 
and closely than he followed Holinshed. Yet it is to be 
noted that, while Shakspere is profoundly faithful to 
Roman life and character, it is an ideal truth, truth 
spiritual rather than truth material, which he seeks to 
discover. His method, as critics have pointed out, is 
widely different from that of his contemporary, Ben 
Jonson. Mr Knight, treating this subject, has said, 
"Jonson has left us two Roman plays produced 
essentially upon a different principle. In his Sejanus 

The Roman Plays. 277 

there is scarcely a speech or an incident that is not 
derived from the ancient authorities ; and Jonson's own 
edition of the play is crowded with references as minute 
as would have been required from any modem annalist. 
. . . His characters . . . are made to speak according 
to the very words of Tacitus and Suetonius ; but they 
are not living men." * Shakspere was aware that his 
personages must be men before they were Romans ; he 
felt that the truth of poetry must be vital and self- 
evidencing ; that if it has got hold of the fact, no refe- 
rence to authority will make the validity of the fact 
more valid. He knew that the buttressing up of art 
with erudition will not give stability to that which must 
stand by no aid of material props and stays, but, if at 
all, by virtue of the one living soul of which it is the 

The German Romanticist critic Franz Horn has said 
that the hero of Shakspere's King John " stands not in 
the list of personages, and could not stand with them. 
. . . The hero is England." Mr Knight adds, that the 
hero of Shakspere's great classical trilogy is Rome. 
Important, however, as the political significance doubtless 
is, there is something more important. Whether at any 
time Shakspere was concerned as deeply about corporate 
life, — ecclesiastical, political, or even national, as he was 
about the life and destiny of the individual man may 
well be questioned. But at this time the play of social 
forces certainly did not engage his imagination with 
exclusive or supreme interest. The struggle of patrician 
and plebeian is not the subject of Coriolanus, and the 
* Charles Knight. Studies of Shakspere, 1851, p. 405. 

278 Shakspere — His Mind and A rt. 

tragedy resolves itself by no solutioii of that political 
problem. Primarily the tragedy is that of an individual 
soul. It is important to note the dates of these plays. 
Julius Caesar, which Malone assigned to the year 1607, 
is now with good reason carried back as early as 1601, 
and thus it lies side by side in point of time with 
Hamlet.* After an interval of seven years or upwards, the 
second of the Roman plays, Antony and Cleopatra, was 
written. ■}• The events of Roman history connect Antony 
and Cleopatra immediately with Julius Caesar ; yet 
Shakspere allowed a number of years to pass, during 
which he was actively engaged as author, before he 

• Mr Halliwell pointed out the following lines in Weever*a " Mirror 
of Martyrs," 1601,— 

The many-headed multitude were drawn 
By Brutus' speech, that Ciesar was ambitious ; 
When eloquent Mark Antony had shown 
His virtues, who but Brutus then was vicious ? 
The theory of Mr Fleay (New Shakspere Society's Transactions), 
that our present Julius Osaaar is a play of Shakspere's altered by 
Ben Jonson about 1607, is unsupported by any sufficient evidence, 
internal or external. Delius dates Julius Csesar '* before December 

t There is an entry in the Stationers' Registers, by Edward Blount, 
May 20, 1608, of *' a booke called Anthony and Cleopatra." This is 
generally supposed to have been Shakspere's play. (So Malone, 
Ohabners, Drake, Collier, Delius, Gervinus, Hudson, Fleay and 
others). Knight and Yeiplanck assign a later date. Mr Halliwell on 
comparing the early editions of North's Plutarch — 1579, 1595, 1603, 
1612 — noticed many small differences between them, '^ and in one case, 
in Coriolanus, hit on a word ' vnfortunate,' altered by the 1612 edition 
from the former one's * vnfortunately,' which * vnfortunate' was the 
word used by Shakspere in his tragedy of Coriolanus. This was there- 
fore primd facie evidence that Shakspere used the 1612 edition of 
North for his Coriolanus, if not for his other Roman plays." (Trans- 
actions of the New Shakspere Society.) Mr Faton claims for a 
copy of North's Plutarch now in the Greenock library the honour of 
having been Shakspere's own copy. It bears (on the cover I believe), 
the initials W.S., and is a copy of the 1612 edition. 

The Roman Plays. 2 79 

seems to have thought of his second Roman play. What 
is the significance of this £Eu;t ? Does it not mean that 
the historical connection was now a connection too 
external and too material to carry Shakspere on from 
subject to subject, as it had sufficed to do while he was 
engaged upon his series of English historical plays ? 
The profoundest concerns of the individual soul were 
now pressing upon the imagination of the poet Dramas 
now written upon subjects taken from history became 
not chronicles but tragedies. The moral interest was 
supreme. The spiritual material dealt with by Shak- 
spere's imagination in the play of Julius Caesar lay wide 
apart from that which forms the centre of the Antony 
and Cleopatra. Therefore the poet was not carried 
directly forward from one to the other. 

But having in Macbeth (1 606, or later), studied the ruin 
of a nature which gave fair promise in men's eyes of great- 
ness and nobility, Shakspere, it may be, proceeded directly 
to a similar study in the case of Antony, In the nature of 
Antony as in the nature of Macbeth, there is a moral 
fault or flaw which circumstances discover, and which in 
the end works his destruction. In each play the pathos 
is of the same kind, — it lies in the gradual severing of 
a man, through the lust of power, or through the lust of 
pleasure, from his better self. By the side of Antony 
as by Macbeth's side there stood a terrible force, in 
the form of a woman, whose function it was to realise 
and ripen the unorganised and undeveloped evil of his 
soul. Antony's sin was an inordinate passion for enjoy- 
ment at the expense of Roman virtue and manly 
energy; a prodigality of heart, a superb egoism of 

2 8o Shakspere — His Mind and A rt. 

pleasure. After a brief interval Shakspere went on to 
apply his imagination to the investigating of another 
form of egoism — ^not the egoism of self-diffusion but of 
self-concentration. As Antony betrays himself and his 
cause through his sin of indulgence and laxity, so 
Coriolanus does violence to his own soul, and to his 
country through his sin of haughtiness, rigidity, and 
inordinate pride. Thus an ethical tendency connects 
these two plays which are also connected in point of 
time. While Antony and Cleopatra, although histori- 
cally a continuation of Julius Caesar, stands separated 
from it, both in the chronological order of Shakspere's 
plays, and in the logical order assigned by successive 
developments of the conscience, the intellect and the 
imagination of the dramatist. 

The theme of the English historical plays is the suc- 
cess and the failure of men to achieve noble practical 
ends. Shakspere observed that there are two classes of 
men in the worid — ^those who use the right means for 
effecting their ends, who, if they want fruit, plant fruit- 
trees ; and, secondly, those who will not accept the fact, 
who try to get fruit by various ingenious methods, only 
not by planting fruit-trees. Success in the visible mate- 
rial world, the world of noble positive action, is the 
measure of greatness in the English historical plays ; and 
the ideal, heroic character of those plays is that of the 
king who so gloriously succeeded, — Henry V. But in 
the tragedies, the men who fail are not necessarily less 
worthy of admiration than the men who succeed. Octa- 
vius, who deals skilfully with life, and is misled by no 
enthusiasms, whose cool heart does not disturb his effi- 

The Roman Plays. 281 

cient hand, who sees the fact with clear-cut edges, and 
achieves the necessary deed with logical precision, which 
is pitiless but not cruel, — Octavius is successful. Yet we 
should rather fail with Brutus. Prosperity or adversity 
in the material worid is here a secondary aflfair. By 
this time Shakspere himself, by use of means which he 
would not reject, however distasteful they were, had 
succeeded ; he had practically mastered life from the 
material point of view. But the breaking down or the 
building up of character seemed to him, now more than 
ever before, of supreme importance. 

In Julius Caesar, Shakspere makes a complete imagina- 
tive study of the case of a man predestined to failure, who 
nevertheless retains to the end the moral integrity which 
he prized as his highest possession, and who with each new 
error advances a fresh claim upon our admiration and 
our love. To maintain the will in a fruitful relation with 
facts, that was what Romeo could not do, because he 
brooded over things as they reflected and repeated them- 
selves in his own emotions ; what Hamlet could not do, 
because he would not or could not come into direct 
contact with events, but studied them as they endlessly 
repeated and reflected themselves in his own thinking. 
Henry V. had been a ruler of men, because, possessing a 
certain plain genius for getting into direct relation with 
concrete fact, and possessing also entire moral soundness, 
his will, his conscience, his intellect, and his enthusiasms, 
had all been at one, and had all tended to action. Shak- 
spere's admiration of the great men of action is immense, 
because he himself was primarily not a man of action. 
He is stem to all idealists, because he was aware that he 

282 Skakspere — His Mind and A rt. 

might too easily yield himself to the tendencies of an 
idealist. When Shakspere feels himself shooting up too 
rapidly he "stops" himself, as gardeners do a plant, 
that he may throw out shoots helow, and increase in 
strength and massiveness. If his feelings begin to 
idealise, he stops them, in order that by coming into 
m6re fruitful relation with fact he may add force and 
amplitude to his feelings. If his ideas tend to become ab- 
stract and notional, he plunges them into concrete matter 
in order that they may enrich and vitalise themselves. 
Against his idealising tendency Shakespere constantly 
plays off his humour, resolved that he will not let him- 
self escape from the real worid, and from the whole of 
it. But with his sternness to idealists there is mingled 
a passionate tenderness. He shows us remorselessly 
their failure, but while they fail we love them. 

Shakspere "stops" himself, because he has entire confi- 
dence in the vigour of both his intellect and of his heart, 
and also in the good powers of this present world. He 
does not suppose that his thoughts will be less strong and 
fruitful because he plunges his ideas back into concrete 
fact. He does not suppose that he will cease to love 
because he chooses to see things as they are, and each 
thing on every side, rather than refine things away into 
the abstractions of the heart, which are desired by the 
purist or the sentimentalist. He does not fear that his 
will may grasp things with less energy or less tenacity, 
because he knows his purpose, and can refrain. And 
accordingly, while we may note many particulars which 
distinguish Shakspere's later writings from those of his 

The Roman Plays. 283 

earlier years, the great distinction of all is this, that his 
power of thought, while losing none of its litheness and 
celerity, became, as time went on, more massive and 
sternly capable of endurance, so that he dared to con- 
front the most awful problems of life, and could at will 
either stoically detain his mind from contemplation of 
the unknown, or could brood upon it with long and 
wistful intensity ; and at the same time his feelings, 
increasing in ardour and swiftness, grew in massiveness 
and complexity, until from such lyric melody of passion 
as reaches us from Romeo and Juliet we make transition 
to the orchestral symphony of emotion which envelops us 
when we approach King Lear. 

Brutus is the political Girondin. He is placed in con- 
trast with his brother-in-law Cassius, the political Jacobin. 
Brutus is an idealist ; he lives among books ; he nourishes 
himself with philosophies ; he is secluded from the im- 
pression of facts. Moral ideas and principles are more 
to him than concrete realities ; he is studious of self- 
perfection, jealous of the purity of his own character, 
unwilling that so clear a character should receive even 
the apparent stain of misconception or misrepresentation. 
He is, therefore, as such men are, too much given to 
explanation of his conduct. Had he lived he would 
have written an Apology for his life, adducing evidence, 
with a calm superiority, to prove that each act of his life 
proceeded from an honourable motive. Cassius, on the 
contrary, is by no means studious of moral perfection. 
He is frankly envious, and hates Caesar. Yet he is not 
ignoble. Brutus loves him, and the love of Brutus is a 
patent which establishes a man's nobility : 

2 84 Shakspere — His Mind and Art, 

The lajst of all the Romans, fare thee well ! 
It is impossible that eyer Rome 
Should breed thy fellow.* 

And Cassius has one who will die for him. Titinius 

crowns the dead brow of the conspirator : 

Brutus come apace, 
And see how I regarded Caius Cassius. 
By your leave, gods — this is a Roman's part: 
Come Cajssius' sword, and find Titinius' heart. 

Cassius has a swift and clear perception of the fact. 
He is not, like Brutus, a theorist, but " a great observer," 
who " looks quite through the deeds of men." Brutus 
lives in the abstraction, in the idea ; Cassius lives in the 
concrete, in the fact. 

The conspiracy has been conceived and hatched 
by Cassius. The one thing wanting to the conspi- 
rators, as he perceives, is moral elevation, and that 
prestige which would be lent to the enterprise by a dis- 
interested and lofty soul like that of Brutus. The time 
is the feast of Lupercal, and Antony "f- is to run in the 
games. Caesar passes by, and as he passes a soothsayer 
calls in shrill tones from the press of people, " Beware 
the Ides of March." Caesar summons him forward, gazes 
in his face, and dismisses him with authoritative gesture, 
" He is a dreamer ; let lis leave him : pass." It is 
evidently intended that Caesar shall have a foible for 
supposing that he can read off character from the faces 

of men : 

Yond Cassius has a lean and hungry look. 

* These lines are taken almost word for word from North's Plutarch. 

+ The name is spelled Antony or Antonie in this play ; but else- 
where in Shakspere, Anthony or Anthonie. See Rev. F. G. Fleay's 
paper in Transactions of the New Shakspere Society. 

The Roman Plays. 285 

Caesar need not condescend to the ordinary ways of 
obtaining acquaintance with facts. He asks no question 
of the soothsayer. He takes the royal road to knowledge, 
— intuition. This self-indulgence of his own foibles is, as 
it were, symbolized by his physical infirmity, which he 
admits in lordly fashion — "Come on my right hand> 
for this ear is deaf." Caesar is entitled to own such a 
foible as deafness; it may pass well with Caesar. If 
men would have him hear them, let them come to his 
right ear. Meanwhile, things may be whispered which 
it were well for him if he strained an ear — aright or left 
— ^to catch. In Shakspere's rendering of the character 
of Caesar, which has considerably bewildered his critics, 
one thought of the poet would seem to be this, — ^that 
unless a man continually keeps himself in relation with 
facts, and with his present person and character, he may 
become to himself legendary and mythical. The real 
man Caesar disappears for himself under the greatness of 
the Caesar myth. He forgets himself as he actually is, 
and knows only the vast legendary power named Caesar. 
He is a numen to himself, specJcing of Caesar in the 
third person, as if of some power above and behind his 
consciousness. And at this very moment — ^so ironical 
is the time-spirit — Cassius is cruelly insisting to Brutus 
upon all those infirmities which prove this god no more 
than a pitiful mortal. 

Julius Caesar appears in only three scenes of the play. 
In the first scene of the third act he dies. Where he 
does appear the poet seems anxious to insist upon the 
weakness rather than the strength of Caesar. He swoons 
when the crown is offered to him, and upon his recovery 

2 86 Shakspere — His Mind and Art 

enacts a piece of stagey heroism ; he suflFers from the 
falling sickness; he is deaf; his body does not retain its 
early vigour. He is subject to the vain hopes and vain 
alarms of superstition. His manner of speech is pompous 
and arrogant ; he accepts flattery as a right ; he vacillates, 
while professing imalterable constancy ; he has lost in 
part his gift of perceiving facts, and of dealing efficiently 
with men, and with events. Why is this ? And why 
is the play, notwithstanding, "Julius Csesar?" Why 
did Shakspere decide to represent in such a light the 
chief man of the Roman world ? Passages in other plays 
prove that Shakspere had not really misconceived " the 
mightiest Julius," " broad-fronted Caesar," the conqueror 
over whom " Death makes no conquest." * " The poet," 
writes Gervinus, " if he intended to make the attempt of 
the republicans his main theme, could not have ventured 
to create too great an interest in Csesar ; it was necessary 
to keep him in the background, and io present that view 
of him which gave a reason for the conspiracy. 
According even to Plutarch, . . . Csesar's character 
altered much for the worse shortly before his death, and 
Shakspeare has represented him according to this sug- 
gestion." "f- Mr Hudson offers a somewhat similar 
explanation. "I have sometimes thought that the 
policy of the drama may have been to represent Caesar 
not as he was indeed, but as he must have appeared to 
the conspirators ; to make us see him as they saw him, 
in order that they, too, might have fair and equal 

• Hamlet, Act L, Scene 1 ; Antony and Cleopatra, Act L, Scene 5 ; 
K. Richard IIL, Act iiL, Scene 1. 
t Gervinus. Shakespeare Ck)mmentarie8, 1863, vol. 2., p. 350. 

The Roman Plays. 287 

judgment at our hands. For Caesar was literally too 
great to be seen by them, save as children often see 
bugbears by moonlight, when their inexperienced eyes 
are mocked with air." And Mr Hudson believes that 
he can detect a "refined and subtile irony" difiFusing 
itself through the texture of the play ; that Brutus, a 
shallow idealist, should outshine the greatest practical 
geniuis the world ever saw can have no other than an 
ironical significance. 

Neither Qervinus nor Mr Hudson has solved the 
difl&culty. Julius Caesar is indeed protagonist of the 
tragedy : but it is not the Caesar whose bodily pre- 
sence is weak, whose mind is declining in strength 
and sure-footed energy, the Caesar who stands exposed 
to all the accidents of fortune. This bodily presence 
of Caesar is but of secondary importance, and may be 
supplied when it actually passes away, by Octavius as its 
substitute. It is the spirit of Caesar which is tJie 
dominant power of the tragedy ; against this — ^the spirit 
of Caesar — Brutus fought ; but Brutus, who for ever errs 
in practical politics, succeeded only in striking down 
Caesar's body ; he who had been weak now rises as pure 
spirit, strong and terrible, and avenges himself upon the 
conspirators. The contrast between the weakness of 
Caesar's bodily presence in the first half of the play, and 
the might of his spiritual presence in the latter half of 
the play is emphasized and perhaps over-emphasized by 
Shakspere. It was the error of Brutus that he failed to 
perceive wherein lay the true Caesarean power, and acted 
with short-sighted eagerness and violence, Mark Antony, 
over the dead body of his lord, annoxmces what is to follow : 

288 Shakspere — His Mind and Art^ 

Over thy wounds now do I prophefiy, — 

A curse shall light upon the limbs of men ; 
Domestic fury and fierce civil strife 
Shall cumber all the parts of Italy ; 

And Caesar's spirit, ranging for revenge, 
With Ate by his side come hot from hell. 
Shall in these confines with a monarch's voice 
Cry " Havoc," and let slip the dogs of war. 

The ghost of Csesar (designated by Plutarch only the 

"evill spirit" of Brutus), which appears on the night 

before the battle of Philippi, serves as a kind of visible 

symbol of the vast posthumous power of the dictator. 

Cassius dies with the words : 

Caesar thou art revenged 
Even with the sword that killed thee. 

Brutus, when he looks upon the dead face of his brother, 
exclaims : 

Julius Csesar thou art mighty yet ! 

Thy spirit walks abroad, and turns our swords 
In our own proper entrails. 

Finally, the little effort of the aristocrat republicans 

sinks to the ground foiled and crushed by the force 

which they had hoped to abolish with one violent blow. 

Brutus dies : 

Caesar, now be still : 

1 kiird not thee with half so good a will 

Brutus dies ; and Octavius lives to reap the fruit whose 
seed had been sown by his great predecessor. With strict 
propriety, therefore, the play bears the name of Julius 

* I am in great part indebted for this explanation of the difficulty to 
the article Die Dramatische Einheit im Julius Casar, by Dr Albert Lind- 
ner, in the Jahrbuch dor Deutachen Shakespeare-Gesellschaft, VoL \L 

The Raman Plays. 289 

Brutus has seen Antony going to the course where 
he is to run with others. The feast of Lupercal in 
honour of the god Pan is being celebrated, and Antony 
is present as chief of one of the companies of priests. 
The Stoic Brutus looks upon all this as an offence. He 
despises Antony, because Antony is "gamesome," and 
he loves the dignified gravity of his own character : 

Cos, Will you go see the order of the course? 

Bru. Not I. 

Cas, I pray you, do. 

Bru, I am not gamesome ; I do lack some part 

Of that quick spirit that is in Antony. 

Let me not hinder, Cassius, your desires ; 

I'U leave you. 

Antony is a man of genius without moral fibre ; 
a nature of a rich, sensitive, pleasure-loving kind ; the 
prey of good impulses and of bad ; looking on life as a 
game, in which he has a distinguished part to play, and 
playing that part with magnificent grace and skill. He 
is capable of personal devotion (though not of devotion to 
an idea), and has indeed a gift for subordination, — subor- 
dination to a Julius Caesar, to a Cleopatra. And as he 
has enthusiasm about great personalities, so he has a 
contempt for inefl&ciency and ineptitude. Lepidus is to 
him "a slight, unmeritable man meet to be sent on 
errands,'* one that is to be talked of not as a person, but 
as a property. Antony possesses no constancy of self- 
esteem ; he can drop quickly out of favour with him- 
self ; and being without reverence for his own type of 

pp. 90-95. Dr Lindner fails however to bring ont the relation of 
Shakspere's conception of Csesar in this play to the character and act of 


290 Shakspere — His Mind and Art. 

chaxacter, and being endowed with a fine versatility of 
perception and feeling, he can admire qualities the most 
remote fix)m his own. It is Antony who utters the iloge 
over the body of Brutus at Philippi. Antony is not with- 
out an aesthetic sense and imagination, though of a some- 
what unspiritual kind : he does not judge men by a severe 
moral code, but he feels in an aesthetic way the grace, 
the splendour, the piteous interest of the actors in the 
exciting drama of life, or their impertinence, ineptitude 
and comicality ; and he feels that the play is poorer by 
the loss of so noble a figure as that of a Brutus. But 
Brutus, over whom his ideals dominate, and who is blind 
to facts which are not in harmony with his theory of the 
universe, is quite unable to perceive the power for good 
or for evil that is lodged in Antony, and there is in the 
great figure of Antony nothing which can engage or 
interest his imagination ; for Brutus's view of life is not 
imaginative, or pictorial, or dramatic ; but wholly 
ethical. The fact that Antony abandons himself to 
pleasure, is "gamesome," reduces him in the eyes of 
Brutus to a very ordinary person, — one who is silly or 
stupid enough not to recognise the first principle of 
human conduct, the need of self-mastery; one against 
whom the laws of the world must fight, and who is 
therefore of no importance. And Brutus was right with 
respect to the ultimate issues for Antony. Sooner or 
later Antony must fall to ruin. But before the moral 
defect in Antony s nature destroyed his fortune much 
was to happen. Before Actium might come Plulippi. 

The procession passes on ; Caesar and Antony are out 
of sight ; Brutus and Cassius are left alone. Cassiufi 

The Roman Plays, 29 1 

complams of want of warmth and gentleness in the bear- 
ing of Brutus towards him of late. The manner oH self-re- 
straint habitual to Brutus is noticeable^ his grave courtesy, 
and desire for a sincere explanation and vindication of 
himself. Cassius now endeavours to gain over Brutus to 
the conspiracy, avoiding any suggestion of an interested 
motive, but holding up as it were a mirror in which 
Brutus may see himself reflected, and thence infer what 
lofty achievement is expected by Rome from one so 
noble. As his own credentials Cassius puts forward his 
freedom from those vices which Brutus most contemns, 
as if there were no dangers from the man whose life is 
not lax, ostentatious and self-indulgent : 

And be not jealous on me, gentle Brutus. 
Were I a common laugher, or did use 
To stale with ordinary oaths my love 
To every new protester ; if you know 
That I do fawn on men and hug them hard 
And after scandal them, or if you know 
That I profess myself in banqueting 
To all the rout, then hold me dangerous. 

It is noteworthy that while Cassius thus plays with 
Brutus and secures him, almost using him as his tool, he 
is fully conscious of the superiority of Brutus. The 
very weaknesses of Brutus come from the nobility of his 
nature. He cannot credit or conceive the base facts of 
life. He has no instrument by which to gauge the 
littleness of little souls. 

The last scene of the first act brings us to the tem- 
pestuous night of prodigies which preceded the death of 
Julius C«esar. Casca appears with the superficial garb 
of cynicism dropt. Does Shakspere in this play mean 


292 Shakspere — His Mind and A rt, 

to signify to us unobtrusively that the philosophical creed 
which a man professes grows out of his character and 
circumstances as far as it is really a portion of his own 
being ; and that as far as it is received by the intellect 
in the calm of life from teachers and schools, such a 
philosophical creed does not adhere very closely to the 
soul of a man, and may, upon the pressure of events or 
f-^ of passions, be cast aside ? The Epicurean Cassius is 

shaken out of his philosophical scepticism by the por- 
tents which appeared upon the march to Philippi : 

You know that I held Epicurus strong, 
And his opinion ; now I change my mind, 
And partly credit things that do presage. 

The Stoic Brutus, who by the rules of his philosophy 
blamed Cato for a self-inflicted death, runs upon his 
own sword and dies. The dramatic self-consistency of 
the characters created by certain writers is to be noticed ; 
we must notice in the case of Shakspere, as a piece of 
higher art, the dramatic inconsistency of his characters. 
In the preceding scene, describing in his cynical mood 
the ceremony at which an offer of the crown was made 
to Ceesar, Casca utters himself in prose ; here Shakspere 
puts verse into his mouth. " Did Cicero say anything ? " 
Cassius inquired in the preceding conversation, and Casca 
answered with curt scorn, " Ay, he spoke Greek." But 
now so moved out of himself is Casca by the portents of 
the night, that he enlarges himself and grows effusive to 
this very Cicero the recollection of whom he had dis- 
missed with such impatient contempt. 

Cicero passes along the streets perceiving no more 
than a storm from which it is prudent that an old man 

The Roman Plays. 293 

should be housed ; his spirit is insulated by a thin, non- 
conducting web of scepticism and intellectuality from the 
electric atmosphere of the time. This electric atmosphere 
plays through every nerve of Cassius. His energy of 
brain and limb is stimulated and intensified, until it 
needs to relieve itself in movement. It is to him a night 
of high-strung delight Besides, Cassius has much work 
to do, and the tempest suits his purposes : 

For my part, I have walk'd aboat the streeta, 
Submittiog me unto the perilous night ; 
And thus, unbraced, Gasca, as you see, 
Have bar'd my bosom to the thunder-stone; 
And when the cross blue lightning seem'd to open 
The breast of heaven, I did present myself 
Even in the aim and very flash of it. 

Brutus is in his orchard alone. He has stolen away 
from Portia ; he is seeking to master himself in solitude, 
and bring under the subjection of a clear idea and a 
definite resolve the tumultuary powers of his nature, 
which have been roused and thrown into disorder by the 
suggestions of Cassius. In the soliloquy of Brutus, after 
he has been left alone, will be found an excellent example 
of the pecidiar brooding or dwelling style which Shak- 
spere appropriated at this period to the soliloquies of men. 
The soliloquies of his women are conceived in a different 
manner. Of this speech Coleridge has said, " I do not at 
present see into Shakspere's motive, his rationale, or in 
what point of view he meant Brutus' character to appear." 
Shakspere's motive is not far to seek. He wishes to 
show upon what grounds the political idealist acts. 
Brutus resolves that Csesar shall die by his hand as the 
conclusion of a series of hypotheses ; there is, as it were, 

294 Skakspere — His Mind and Art, 

a sorites of abstract principles about ambition, and 
power, and reason, and affection ; finally, a profound 
suspicion of Caesar is engendered, and his death is de- 
creed. It is idealists who create a political terror ; they 
are free from all desire for blood-shedding ; but to them 
the lives of men and women are accidents ; the lives of 
ideas are the true realities ; and, armed with an abstract 
principle and a suspicion, they perform deeds which are 
at once beautifril and hideous : 

Tis a common proof 
That lowliness is young Ambition's ladder, 
Whereto the climber-upward turns his face ; 
But when he once attains the upmost round. 
He then unto the ladder turns his back, 
Looks in the clouds, scorning the base degrees 
By which he did ascend ; so Gsesar may ; 
Then, lest he may, prevent ! 

The written instigations which Cassius has caused to 
be thrown in at Brutus' window add the final con- 
firmation to his resolve; and at this moment the 
conspirators enter. While Brutus and Cassius converse 
apart, and the others are turned in the direction of 
the east, the first grey lines of morning begin doubt- 
fully to fret the clouds. Nature, with her ministries 
of twilight and day-dawn, suffers no interruption of 
her calm, beneficent operancy, and, after tempest, 
another morning is broadening for all Rome. Casca 
points his sword toward the Capitol, and at the same 
moment the sun arises. " Is there not," asks Mr Craik, 
" some allusion, which the look and tone of the speaker 
might express more clearly than his words, to the great 
act about to be performed in the Capitol, and the change 

The Raman Plays. 295 

as of a new day that was expected to follow it?" Ob- 
serve how strongly Shakspere marks the passage of time 
up to the moment of Caesar's death ; night, dawn, eight 
o'clock, nine o'clock, that our suspense may be height- 
ened, and our interest kept upon the strain. 

It is characteristic of Brutus that he will allow no 
oath to be taken by the conspirators. He who has been 
all his life cultivating reliance on the will apart from 
external props cannot now fall back for support upon the 
objective bond of a vow or pledge. Their enterprise 
looks more clear and beautiful in the light of its own 
courage and justice than when associated with a vulgar 
formula of words : 

Do not stain 
The even virtue of onr enterprise, 
Nor the insappressive mettle of our spirits, 
To think that or our cause, or our performance 
Did need an oadi. 

Cassius now proposes to bring Cicero into the plot ; 
Casca, Cinna, and Metellus Cimber warmly concur. 
Brutus objects (and it is to be noticed that Shakspere 
did not obtain from Plutarch this fine trait) : 

O, name him not ; let us not break with him ; 
For he wiU never follow anything 
That other men begin. 

And by mere force of his moral authority, Brutus carries 
his point. So again with the next matter under dis- 
cussion. Cassius estimating the importance of Antony 
justly, urges that Antony should perish with Caesar. 
But Brutus again objects. The political Qirondin is not 
warring against men but against ideas : 

296 Shakspere — His Mind and ArL 

Let us be sacrificers, but not butchers, Caius. 
We all stand up against the spirit of CsBsar ; 
And in the spirit of men there is no blood. 

Besides, apart from Caesar, Antony can do nothing. 
Is he not given " to sports, to wildness, and much com- 
pany," and therefore an insignificant person ? A short- 
sighted idealism ! Yet it was better that Brutus should 
die with foiled purpose at Philippi than that he should 
sully the brightness of his virtue by the stain of what 
seemed to him needless bloodshedding. Like the 
Girondin that he is, Brutus trusts to moral forces and 
ideas, which operate in the real world in a large incalcul- 
able way, unlike that allowed for in any of our idealistic 
schemes of the world. While committing an act of 
violence against constituted authority, Brutus fails to 
perceive the necessary consequences of that act. Cassius, 
who with Caesar would have stabbed Antony, might 
have served his cause better than did Brutus. . The 
gift with which Brutus enriched the world was the gift 
of himself, a soul of incorruptible virtue. 

As the conspirators depart, Brutus, who is not fashioned 
for conspiracy, bids them look fresh and merrily. 

And bear it as our Roman actors do 
With untir'd spirits and formal constancy. 

How ill Brutus can conceal his inward trouble appears 
from what immediately follows. Portia enters. The 
strange behaviour and distraught aspect of Brutus have 
roused her tenderest wifely anxieties. No relation of 
man and woman in the plays of Shakspere is altogether 
so noble as that of Portia and Brutus. The love of 
Brutus could not be given except with admiration equal 

The Roman Plays. 297 

to his love. He could not separate a public life of 

action jfrom his life of the home, or sink down upon 

mild domestic comfort, some " gracious silence " like the 

Virgilia of Coriolanus. His love must be strenuous like 

every other part of his character, and must constantly 

infuse vigour and ardour into his life. Portia, while 

perfectly a woman, must be to him more than a woman ; 

she must be an ideal of august and adorable heroism. 

Portia, Cato's daughter, Brutus' wife is a Stoic like her 

husband. To test her constancy she had inflicted upon 

herself a wound in the thigh, — the will dealing hardly 

with the body, the idea daring to transform itself with 

eagerness, and keen conviction into the act. We read 

of no embrace, no touch of hands or lips between Brutus 

and Portia; but we know that their souls have met, 

that they are inseparably one, and absolutely equal. 

Juliet, heroic nature though hers be, is but a passionate 

girl by the side of this perfect woman* And the 

nobility of Portia makes the love of Brutus for her 

almost a religion ; 

ye gode, 
Render me worthy of this noble wife ! 

He had thought not to burden her with the secret of 
the conspiracy; the sense of something concealed has 
made his manner toward her constrained. Now as an 
equal she demands her right, she pleads for her happi- 
ness of sharing all that concerns her husband. She will 
not be put ofiF with kind evasions ; she presses forward 
to know the formidable truth ; and pleads upon her 
knees before the husband whom she venerates even as he 
venerates her : 

298 Skakspere — His Mind and Art. 

Upon my knees 
I charm yon, by my once commended beanty, 
By all yonr vows of love, and that great vow 
Which did incorporate and make na one. 
That you nnfold to me, your self, your half, 
Why you are heavy. 

And Brutus grants her the share in his enterprise to 
which she is entitled. 

With this scene may be compared and contrasted 
the scene in the first part of King Henry IV. 
{Act ii. 8c&ns 3), in which Lady Percy, alarmed by 
the evidences of excitement which her husband cannot 
conceal, but of which he will not render an account, 
persecutes him with loving importunity to disclose his 
secret. Lady Percy loves Hotspur as a loyal wife ; but 
she has no serious confidence in her own influence with 
her gallant mad-cap Harry ; and while playfully insisting 
on her demands she expects a refusal 

Come, come you paraquito, answer me 
Directly unto this question that I ask; 
In faith Til break thy little finger, Harry, 
An if thou wilt not tell me all things true. 

Hotspur, through his seeming recklessness, has in 
reality a genuine manly tenderness for his wife; he is 
troubled by her importunities, and anxious to escape 
firom them; but he is not going to be so weak as to 
betray his secret to a woman : 

Whither I must, I must ; and, to conclude, 
This evening must I leave you, gentle Kate. 
I know you wise, but yet no farther wise 
Than Harry Percy's wife ; constant you are. 
But yet a woman ; and for secrecy 
No lady closer ; for I will believe 

The Roman Plays. 299 

Thoa wilt not utter what thou dost not know ; 

And 80 far will I tnist thee, gentle Kate. 
Za</y. How! so far? 
Hot, Not an inch farther. 

And then cornea the explanation of his apparent 

roughness : 

Bat hark you, Kate : 
Whither I go, thither shall 70a go too ; 
To-day will I set forth, to-morrow you. 
Will this content you, Kate ? 
Lady, It must of force. 

The relation of husband and wife as conceived in the 
historical plays differs throughout from that relation as 
conceived in the tragedies. 

In the fourth scene we again meet Portia. Brutus 
has gone forth to bring Csesar to the Capitol. Portia is 
standing without the door of her house, straining her 
ear to catch any sound the wind may bear from that 
direction, " Think you," asked Portia in the preceding 
scene, *' I am no stronger than my sex ? " Now she 
discovers her womanhood : 

constancy, be strong upon my side, 

Set a huge mountain 'tween my heart and tongue ! 

1 have a man^s mind, but a woman's might. 

She is one strung nerve of suspense and anxiety. She 
is uncontrollably eager (for this stoical woman is of an 
organization as far as possible removed from the phleg- 
matic) ; yet when the soothsayer speaks, adding to her 
anxiety as to the event, the apprehension that the plot 
has been discovered, she for the time controls herself, 
and appears calm. When he is gone, she can endure 
no longer : 

I must go in. Ay me, how weak a thing 

The heart of woman is ! 

300 Shakspere — His Mind and Art. 

Such a woman as Portia pays a terrible tax for her 
self-mastery. The cheap payment of efiFusive tears and 
hysterical cries she cannot render as her tribute to the 
tyrannous powers. When tears escape her, each one is 
distilled ifrom an intense agony. And because she 
yields less than others, she may snap the more suddenly. 
" It is the strongest hearts," said Landor, " that are the 
soonest broken.*' Had Portia been less her husband's 
equal, less absolutely one with him in his ain[is and 
endeavours, she might have lived. Her death, like her 
life, excludes all common grief and joy; the pain is a 
pain which makes us stronger; the joy is stricter than 
duty, and of higher power to constrain to all that is 
excellent. Shakspere, with fine judgment, has allowed 
us to see Portia seldom in the play ; otherwise an interest 
alien from that which he intended might have grown pre- 

Upon the death of Csesar, Cassius parts the crowd, 
and delivers an oration. This speech of Cassius Shak- 
spere has not recorded for us. We may be certain that 
it was fiery, triumphant, and effective; we may be 
certain that he did not, like Brutus, make studious 
effort to exclude all appeal to passion. It is charac- 

* Mr Hudson (Shakespeare : his Life, Art, and Characters, vol. 2, p. 
239) notices a touching incident from Plutarch, respecting Portia, which 
Shakspere did not use. At the parting of Portia from Brutus in the 
sea-side city of Elea, she tried to dissemble her sorrow. '* But a certain 
painting bewrayed her in the end. The device was taken out of the 
Greek stories, how Andromache accompanied her husband Hector 
when he went out of Troy to the wars, and how Hector delivered her 
his little son, and how her eyes were never off him. Portia, seeing this 
picture, and likening herself to be in the same case, fell a- weeping ; 
and coming thither oftentimes in a day to see it, she wept still." 

The Roman Plays. 301 

teristic of the idealist that he should treat the Roman 
crowd — that sensitive, variable, irrational mass — as if it 
must not be indulged in any manner of persuasion 
except a calm appeal to reason, and the presentation of 
an ideal of Justice. He begins with a vindication of his 
own conduct, an apology for Brutus. His manner is 
deliberate and constrained until he passes from self- 
defence to a direct appeal to his countrymen's patriotism 
and love of freedom ; and it is noticeable that at this 
point his speech, which began as prose, if not actually 
verse, hovers on the brink of verse. But Brutus, who is 
utterly unable to calculate the composition of concrete 
forces, commits a yet graver error. When Antony, after 
the assassination, comes into the presence of the leaders 
of the conspiracy, Brutus addresses him also with a 
speech of explanation, an apologia. Cassius, who at 
their private conclave had urged Mark Antony's death, 
now comes forward with a brief and efiFective appeal to 
Antony's interests : 

Your voice shall be as strong as any man's 
In the disposing of new dignities. 

Antony begs to be allowed to speak at CsBsar's funeral. 
In the joy of having achieved an eminent deed which, 
though it look savage, was indeed merciful, and for which 
he can render ample " reasons," — Brutus is well pleased 
to act generously to a partizan of Caesar, and gives con- 
sent. Cassius is still urgent to have the future relation 
of Antony to the conspirators determined and made 
dear: — 

Will you be pricked in number of our friends ; 

Or shall we on, and not depend on you? 

302 Shakspere — His Mind and Art. 

Upon heaxing Brutus give consent to Anton/s request, 

Cassius interposes : 

BnituB, a word wiUi you. 
You know DOt what you do ; do not consent 
That Antony speak in his funeraL 

But Brutus replies that he will himself go first into 
the pulpit, " And show the reason of our Caesar's death/' 
Show the reason ! After which, doubtless, appeal to 
the passions of a Roman crowd must be ineffectual. 
But in reality the speech of Brutus is unable to rouse 
any enthusiasm among his hearers for Liberty or an ideal 
of Justice. The people require a Csesar, and if their 
former lord be dead, then they will have Brutus himself 
fc(r their new lord. 

1 Cit. Bring him in triumph home unto his house. 

2 Cii, Give him a statue with his ancestors. 
8 Cit, I^t him be Csesar. 

This is not the mood in which the citizens can offer 
resistance to the appeals of Antony. The political 
idealist adds another to his series of fatal miscalcula- 

sThe second scene of the fourth act was already cele- 
brated in Shakspere's own day. Leonard Digges records 
its popularity. It was imitated by Beaumont and 

* Mr Hudson notices that *' Plutarch has a short passage which 
served as a hint, not indeed of the matter, but for the style of that 
speech fof Brutus]. *They do note,' says he, 'that in some of his 
epistles he counterfeited that brief compendious manner of the Lace- 
diemonians. As, when the war was began, he wrote to the Peiga- 
menians in this sort ; ' I understand you have given Ddlabella money : 
if you have done it willingly, you confess you have offended me ; if 
against your wills, show it by giving me willingly. ' This was Brutus' 
manners of letters, which were honoured for their briefness.' " Shake- 
speare : his Life, Art and Characters, voL 2, pp. 234<35. This peculiarity 

The Roman Plays. 303 

Fletcher in "The Maid's Tragedy," and afterwards by 
Dryden in " All for Love." " I know no part of Shak- 
speare," Coleridge wrote, " that more impresses on me 
the belief of his genius being superhuman, than this 
scene between Brutus and Cassius." Brutus has 
alienated his friend by uncompromising adherence to his 
own ideaj standard of purity : he has condemned Lucius 
Pella for xaking bribes, although Cassius had written in 
his behalf. Brutus loves virtue and despises gold ; but 
in the logic of facts there is an irony cruel or pathetia 
Brutus maintains a lofty position of immaculate honour 
above Cassius ; but ideals, and a heroic contempt for 
gold, will not fill the military coffer, or pay the legions, 
and the poetry of noble sentiment, suddenly drops down 
to the prosaic complaint that Cassius had denied the 
demands made by Brutus for certain sums of money.* 
Nor is Brutus, though he worship an ideal of Justice, 
quite just in matters of concrete practical detail. 

CtM. I denied you not. 

Btu, You did. 

Cos, I did not ; he was but a fool 

That brought my answer back. Brutus hath riy^d my heart ; 
A friend should bear his friend's infirmities, 
But Brutus makes mine greater than they are. 

of style is not confined to Brntns* address to the people. It appears, for 
example, in his final and deliberate reply to Cassius, Aci\^ Scene 2 : — 

That yon do love me I am nothing jealous ; 

What you would work me to I have some aim ; 

. What you have said 
I will consider ; what you have to say 
I will with patience hear. 
* Kreyssig. Vorlesungen liber Shakespeare (ed. 1874), vol. i. p. 424. 

304 Shakspere — His Mind and Art. 

Each is naturally and inevitably aggrieved with the 
other ; one from the practical, the other from the ideal 
standpoint. Shakspere, in his infinite pity for human 
error and frailty, makes us love Brutus and Cassius the 
better through the little wrongs which bring the great 
wealth of their love and true fraternity to light. Bsutus 
calls for a bowl of wine in which to pledge their recon- 
ciliation. Then when their hearts are tenderest comes 
the confession of the sorrow which Brutus could not 
utter as long as a shadow lay between his soul and his 
friend's : 

Ca*, I did not think yon conld have been so angiy. 
j?n(. CassiuB, I am sick of many griefs. 
Ca9, Of your philosophy yon make no use, 

If yon give place to accidental evils. 
Bru, No man bears sorrow better. Portia is dead. 

But Brutus is sustained by the spirit of Portia. To live 
in her spirit of Stoicism becomes now the highest act of 
religion to her memory . 

Speak no more of her. Give me a bowl of wine ; — 
In this I bury all unkindness, Cassius. 

The armed men talking so gravely, before the great day 
which is to decide the fate of the world of the 
" insupportable and touching loss *' make us know what 
this woman was. Profound emotion, Shakspere was 
aware, can express itself quietly and with reserve. The 
noisy demonstration of grief over the supposed dead 
Juliet is the extravagant abandonment to sorrow, partly 
real and partly formal, of hearts which were little 
sensitive, and which had little concerned themselves 
about the joy or misery of Juliet living. Laertes' rant 

The Roman Plays. 305 

in the grave of Ophelia is reproved by the more violent 

hyperbole of Hamlet. Brutus will henceforth be silent, 

and possess his soul : 

Cas, Portia, thou art gone. 

Bru. No more I pray you. 

The remainder of the life of Brutus is a sad, sustained 

devotion to his cause. 

And now once more he helps to ruin that cause. 

Cassius with good reason urges that the army should not 

advance upon Philippi ; Brutus is in favour of advancing. 

Cassius, as always, is in the right ; Brutus, as always, 

carries his point. Night has crept upon their talk, and 

with a profound reconciliation, with a sense of full and 

measureless fraternity they part. The Roman leader, 

now that the great battle has drawn near, does not 

occupy himself like Henry Y. before the morning of 

Agincourt in moving from sentinel to sentinel with words 

of cheer. He is in his tent, and the boy Lucius touches 

his instrument, drowsily fingering the strings.* Brutus, 

with his beautiful freedom from the petty self-interests of 

daily life, is gentle and considerate towards everyone. 

The servants have lain down. Lucius drops away into 

the irresistible sleep of boyhood. Brutus, who at the 

call of duty and honour could plunge his dagger into 

Ceesar, cannot wake a sleeping boy. Shakspere had 

somehow learnt 

The devotion to something afar 
From the sphere of oiir sorrow. 

* Brutus loves music ; but of Cassius, Csdsar notes " he hears no 
music." Compare Merchant of Venice, Ad v., 8ceM 1 : — 
The man that hath no music in himself, 
Nor is not moved with concord of sweet sounds. 
Is fit for treasons, stratagems, and spoils. 

3o6 Shakspere — His Mind and Art. 

Brutus gently disengages the instrument from the hand 
of Lucius, and continues his book where he had left it 
oiBTlast night. There is nothing more tender in the plays 
of Shakspere than this scene. The tenderness of a man 
who is stem is the only tenderness which is wholly 
delicate and refined. 

In the battle at Philippi it is Brutus who, by his in- 
considerate rashness and miscalculation of facts, ensures 
defeat. This is his last error. He is willing that Strato 
should hold the sword while he falls upon it : 

Thoa art a fellow of a good respect, 

Thy life hath had some smatch of honour in it ; 

Hold then my sword. 

Brutus must die by no ignoble hand. To the last 
moment he reveres himself. And the concluding words 
of the play convey to us an a3surance, which we require, 
that his body shall suffer no wrong. 

The life of Brutus, as the lives of such men must be, 
was a good life, in spite of its disastrous fortunes. He 
had found no man who was not true to him. And he 
had known Portia. The idealist was predestined to 
failure in the positive world. But for him the true 
failure would have been disloyalty to his ideals. Of such 
failure he suffered none. Octavius and Mark Antony 
remained victors al Philippi. Yet the purest wreath of 
victory rests on the forehead of the defeated conspirator. 


The transition from the Julius Oaesar of Shakspere to 
his Antony and Cleopatra produces in us the change of 
pulse and temper experienced in passing from a gallery 

The Roman Plays. 307 

of antique sculpture to a room splendid with the colours 
of Titian and Paul Veronese. In the characters of the 
Julius Csesar there is a severity of outline ; they impose 
themselves with strict authority upon the imagination ; 
subordinated to the great spirit (^ CsBsar, the conspirators 
appear as figures of life-size> but they impress us as no 
larger than life. The demand which they make is 
exact ; such and such tribute miust be rendered by the 
soul to each. The characters of the Antony and Cleo- 
patra insinuate themselves through the senses, trouble 
the blood, ensnare the imagination, invade our whole 
being like colour or like musie. The figures dilate to 
proportions greater than human, and are seen through a 
golden haze of sensuous splendour. Julius Csesar and 
Antony and Cleopatra are related as works of art rather 
by points of contrast than by points of resemblance. In 
the one an ideal of duty is dominant ; the other is a 
divinisation of pleasure, followed by the remorseless Ne- 
mesis of eternal law. Brutus, the Stoic, constant, loyal 
to his ideas, studious of moral perfection, bent upon 
gaining self-^mastery, unsulUed and untarnished to the 
end, stands over against Antony, swayed hither and 
thither by appetites, interests, imagination, careless of 
his own moral being, incapable of self-control, soiled 
with the stains of passion and decay. And of Cleopatra 
what shall be said ? Is she a creature of the same breed 
as Cato's daughter, Portia ? Does the one word woman 
include natures so diverse ? Or is Cleopatra — ^Anton/s 
"serpent of old Nile" — ^no mortal woman, but lilith 
who ensnared Adam before the making of Eve ? Shak- 
spere has made the one as truly woman as the other ; 

3o8 Shakspere — His Mind and Art, 

Portia, the ideal of moral loveliness, heroic and feminine ; 

GSleopatra^ the ideal of sensual attractiveness, feminine 


A bliss in proof, and proved, a very woe ; 
Before, a joy proposed ; behind, a dream.* 

We do not once see the lips of Brutus laid on Portia's 
lips as seal of perfect union, but we know that their 
beings and their lives had embraced in flawless confi- 
dence, and perfect, mutual service. Antony embracing 

Cleopatra exclaims. 

The nobleness of life 
Is to do thus ; when snch a mutoal pair 
And snch a twain can do^t, in which I bind, 
On pain of ponishment, the world to weet 
We stand up peerless. 

Yet this " mutual pair," made each to fill the body and 
soul of the other with voluptuous delight, are made also 
each for the other's torment Antony is haunted by 
suspicion that Cleopatra will betray him ; he believes it 
possible that she could degrade herself to familiarity with 
Caesar's menials. And Cleopatra is aware that she must 
weave her snares with endless variety, or Antony will 

The spirit of the play, though superficially it appear 
voluptuous, is essentially severe. That is to say, Shak- 
spere is faithful to the fact. The fascination exercised 
by Cleopatra over Antony, and hardly less by Antony 
over Cleopatra, is not so much that of the senses as of 
the sensuous imagination. A third of the world is 
theirs. They have left youth behind with its slight, 
melodious raptures and despairs. Theirs is the deeper 

* Shakspere's Sonnets, czzix. 

The Roman Plays. 309 

intoxication of middle age, when death has become a 
reality, when the world is limited and positive, when life 
is urged to yield up quickly its utmost treasures of de- 
light. What may they not achieve of joy who have 
power, and beauty, and pomp, and pleasure all their 
own ? How shall they fill every minute of their time 
with the quintessence of enjoyment and of glory ? 

Let Rome in Tiber melt I and the wide arch 
Of the rang'd empire fall ! here is my space. 

Only one thing they had not allowed for, — ^that over 
and above power, and beauty, and pleasure, and pomp, 
there is a certain inevitable fact, a law which cannot be 
evaded. Pleasure sits enthroned as queen ; there is a 
revel, and the lords of the earth, crowned with roses, 
dance before her to the sound of lascivious flutes. But 
presently the scene changes ; the haU of revel is trans- 
formed to an arena ; the dancers are armed gladiators ; 
and as they advance to combat they pay the last homage 
to their Queen with the words, Morituri te acUutant 

The pathos of Antony and Cleopatra resembles the 
pathos of Macbeth. But Shakspere like Dante allows 
the soul of the perjurer and murderer to drop into a 
lower, blacker, and more lonely circle of Hell than the 
soul of the man who has sinned through voluptuous 
self-indulgence. Yet none the less Antony is daily 
dropping away farther from all that is sound, strong, and 
enduring. His judgment wanes with, his fortune. He 
challenges to a combat with swords his clear-sighted and 
unimpassioned rival into whose hands the empire of the 
world is about to falL He abandons himself to a sense- 
less exasperation : 

3 lO Shahspere — His Mind and Art. 

I will be treble-ainew'd, hearted, breathed, 
And fight maliciouslj ; for when mine hours 
Were nice and lucky, men did ransom lives 
Of me with jests ; but now Til set my teeth. 
And send to darkness all that stop me. 

He sees his fate dosing in upon him ; he will sell his 
life dearly ; and meantime, like a man condemned to 
execution upon the morrow, he will have one more night 
of pleasure : 

Let's have one other gaudy night : call to me 
All my sad captains ; fill our bowls once more ; 
Let^ mock the midnight belL 
Clto, It is my birthday. 

But Anton/s straggle after boisterous mirth proves a 
piteous mockery. The banquet is a valediction ; the 
great leader s followers are transformed to women ; 
Enobarbus turns away "onion-eyed." Antony makes 
one rude effort to lift himself up above the damps and 
depression which have fallen on his spirit, one effort to 
fling aside the consciousness of the failure of his life, 
which yet clings to him : 

Ho, ho, ho I 
Now the witch take me, if I meant it thus ! 
Grace grow where those drops fall ! My hearty friends, 
You take me in too dolorous a sense ; 
For I spake to you for your comfort ; did desire you 
To bum this night with torches : know, my hearts, 
I hope well of to-morrow ; and will lead you 
Where rather Til expect victorious life 
Than death and honour. Let's to supper, come, 
And drown consideration. 

Hercules, the generous wielder of strength, whom 
Antony loved, is departing from him ; music heard at 
midnight by the sentinels warn them of the withdrawal 

The Roman Plays. • 311 

of the favour of the divinity. Experience, manhood, 
honour, more and more violate themselves in Antony. 
Cleopatra's ship turns the rudder and flies from the sea- 
fight Antony, regardless of fortune and of shame, 

Claps on the sea-wing and like a doting mallard, 
Leaving the fight in height^ flies after ber. 

He is indeed the ruin of Cleopatra's magic ; yet he is 
a lordly and eminent ruin, and before all sinks in black- 
ness and ashes, there is a last leaping-up of the flame 
of his fortune by which we see the figure of Antony, 
still majestic, pathetically illuminated by a glory that 
passes away. He is made glad with one hour's victory. 
Though deserted by Enobarbus, Scarus has been faithful 
and is at his side, red firom honourable wounds : 

Give me thj hand ; 
EnUt Cleopatra, attended. 
To this great fairy 111 commend thy acts, 
Make her thanks bless thee ITo Cieo.], O thou day o' the world, 
Chain mine armed neck ; leap thou, attire and all, 
Through proof of harness to my heart, and there 
Ride on the pants triumptiing ! 

Cleo. Lord of lords ! 

infinite virtue, comest thou smiling from 
The world's great snare tmcanght? 

Ant. My nightingale, 

We hare beat them to their beds. What girl ! though gray 
Do something mingle with our younger brown. 
Yet ha' we a brain that nourishes our nerves, 
And can get goal for goal of youth. 

Measure things only by the sensuous imagination, and 
everything in the world of oriental voluptuousness, in 
which Antony lies bewitched, is great. The passion 
and the pleasure of the Egyptian queen, and of her 
paramour, toil after the infinite. The Herculean strength 

3 1 2 Shakspere — His Mind and Art, 

of Antony, the grandeur and prodigal power of hia 
nature, inflate and buoy up the imagination of Cleopatra. 

The demi-Atlfts of this earth, the arm 
And burgonei of men. 

While he is abs^it, Cleopatra would, if it were 
possible, annihilate time, — 

Charmian. Why, madam ? 

CUo, That I might sleep out this great gap of time - 

My Antony is away. 

When Antony dies the only eminent thing in the 

earth is gone, and an universal flatness, an equality of 

insignificances remains : 

Young boys and girls 
Are level now with men ; the odds is gone, 
And there is nothing left remarkable 
Beneath the visiting moon. 

We do not mistake this feeling of Cleopatra towards 
Antony for love ; but he has been for her (who had 
known Csesar and Pompey), the supreme sensation. She 
is neither faithful to him nor faithless ; in her complex 
nature, beneath each fold or layer of sincerity lies one of 
insincerity, and we cannot tell which is the last and inner- 
most. Her imagination is stimulated, and nourished 
by Antony's presence. And he in his turn finds in the 
beauty and witchcraft of the Egyptian, something no 
less incommensurable and incomprehensible. Yet no 
one felt more profoundly than Shakspere, — as his 
Sonnets abundantly testify, — that the glory of strength 
and of beauty is subject to limit and to time. What he 
would seem to say to us in this play, not in the manner 
of a doctrinaire or a moralist, but wholly as an artist. 

The Roman Plays, 313 

is that this sensuous infinite is but a dream, a deceit, a 
snare. The miserable change comes upon Antony. 
The remorseless practice of Cleopatra upon his heart has 
done him to death. And among things which the 
barren world offers to the Queen she now finds death, 
a painless death, the least hateful. Shakspere, in his 
high impartiality to fact, denies none of the glory of the 
lust of the eye and the pride of life. He compels us to 
acknowledge these to the utmost. But he adds that 
there is another demonstrable fact of the world, which 
tests the visible pomp fA the earth, and the splendour of 
sensuous passion, and finds them wanting. The glory 
of the royal festival is not dulled by Shakspere or 
diminished ; but also he shows us in letters of flame the 
handwriting upon the wall. 

This Shakspere effects, however, not merely or chiefly 
by means of a catastrophe. He does not deal in pre- 
cepts or moral reflections, or practical applications. He 
is an artist, but an artist who grasps truth largely. The 
ethical truth lives and breathes in every part of his 
work as artist, no less than the truth to things sensible 
and presentable to the imagination. At every moment 
in this play we assist at a catastrophe — ^the decline of 
a lordly nature. At every moment we are necessarily 
aware of the gross, the mean, the disorderly womanhood 
in Cleopatra, no less than of the witchery and wonder 
which excite, and charm, and subdue. We see her a 
dissembler, a termagant, a coward ; and yet '' vilest 
things become her." The presence of a spirit of life in 
Cleopatra, quick, shifting, multitudinous, incalculable, 
fascinates the eye, and would, if it could, lull the moral 

3 1 4 Shakspere — His Mind and A rt. 

sense to sleep, as the sea does with its endless snake- 
like motions in the sun and shade. She is a wonder of 
the world, which we would travel far to look upon. 
Enobarbus, while contemptuously ironical, and looking 
through her manifest practice upon Mark Antony with 
perfect clearness of vision, admits also that she repays 
the cost of inspection. 

/ AnU She la conmng past man^s thoogfat, 

Eno, Alack, air, no ; her paasiona are nuide of nothing but the 
finest part of pure love ; we cannot call her winds and waters, sigha 
and tears ; they are greater storms and tempests than almanacs can 
report ; this cannot be conning in her — ^if it be, she makes a shower 
of rain as well as Joys. 

Ant. Would I had never seen her ! 

Eno, 0, sir, you had then left unseen a wonderful piece of work ; 
which not to have been blest withal would have discredited your 
V travel. 

'' Great crimes, springing &om high passions, grafted on 
high qualities, are the legitimate source of tragic poetry. 
But to make the extreme of littleness produce an effect 
like grandeur — ^to make the excess of frailty produce aji 
effect like power — to heap up together all that is most 
unsubstantial, frivolous, vain, contemptible, and variable, 
till the worthlessness be lost in the magnitude, and a 
sense of the sublime spriiag from the very elements of 
littleness — to do this belonged only to Shakspere, that 
worker of miracles. Cleopatra is a brilliant antithesis, a 
compound of contradictions, of all that we most hate, 
with what we most admire." * 

If we would know how an artist devoted to high 
moral ideals would treat such a character as that of 

* Mrs Jameson. Characteristics of Women, vol. ii., p. 122, ed. 1S58. 
The study of Cleopatra's character is among the best of this writer's 
criticisms of Shakspere. 

The Roman Plays. 3 1 J 

the flestly enchantress we have but to turn to the 
Samson Agonistes. Milton exposes Dalila only to 
drive her explosively from the stage. Shakspere 
would have studied her with equal delight and detes- 
tation. Yet the severity of Shakspere, in his own 
dramatic fashion, is as absolute afi that of Milton. 
Antony is dead. The supreme sensation of Cleopatra's 
life is ended, and she seems in the first passionate burst 
of chagrin to have no longer interest in anything but 
death. By-and-by she is in the presence of Caesar, and 
hands over to him a document, the " brief of money, 
plate, and jewels " of which she is possessed. She calls 
on her treasurer Seleucus to vouch for its accuracy : 

Speak the truth, Selencus. 
Sd, Madam, 

I had rather seal my lipe than to my peril 

Speak that which is not 
Cho, What hare I kept back ? 

StL Enough to purchase what you hare made known. 
Cm», Nay, blush not, Cleopatra ; I approve 

Your wisdom in the deed. 

In her despair, while declaring that she will die '' in 
the high Roman fashion," Cleopatra yet clings to her 
plate and jewels. And the cold approval of Csesar, who 
never gains the power which passion supplies, nor loses 
the power which passion withdraws and dissipates, the 
approval of Csesar is confirmed by the judgment of the 
spectator. It is right and natural that Cleopatrar should 
love her jewels, and practice a fraud upon her conqueror. 

Nor is her death quite in that ''high Roman fashion" 
which she had announced. She dreads physical pain, 
and is fearful of the ravage which death might commit 

3 1 6 Shakspere — His Mind and Art 

upon her beauty; * under her physician's clirection she 
has "pursued conclusions infinite of easy ways to die." 
And now to die painlessly is better than to grace the 
triumph of Octavius. In her death there is something 
dazzling and splendid, something sensuous, something 
theatrical, something magnificently coquettish, and no- 
thing stern. Yet Shakspere does not play the rude 
moralist; he needs no chorus of Israelite captives to 
utter invectiye against this Dalila. Let her possess all 
her grandeur, and her charm. Shakspere can show us 
more excellent things which will make us proof against 
the fascination of these. 

Cfeo. Give me my robe, put on my crown ; I have 
Immortal longingg in me : now no more 
The juice of Egypt's grape shall moist this lip : 
Tare, yare, good Iras ; quick. Methinks I hear 
Antony call ; I see him rouse himself 
To praise my noble act ; I hear him mock 
The luck of Caesar, which the gods give men 
To excuse their after-wrath : husband, I come : 
Now to that name my courage prove my title ! 
I am fire and air ; my other elements 
I give to baser life. So ; have you done.? 
Come then, and take the last warmth of my lips. 
Farewell, kind Gharmian ; Iras, long fajrewelL 

\Kis9ts them, Iras falls and dies. 
Have I the aspic in my lips ? Dost fall ? 
If thou and nature can so gently part 
The stroke of death is as a lover's pinch, 
Which hurts and is desired. Dost thou lie still ? 

Shall they hoist me up. 
And show me to the shouting varletry 
Of censuring Rome ? Rather a ditch in Egypt 
Be gentle grave unto me ! rather on Kilus' mud 
Lay me stark naked, and let the water-flies 
Blow me into abhorring. 

The Roman Plays. 3 1 7 

If thuJB thou yaDishest, thou tell'st the world 

It is Dot worth leaye-taking. 
Char. Dissolve, thick cloud, and rain, that I may say 

The gods themselyes do weep ! 
CZeo. This proves me base : 

If she first meet the curled Antony, 

Hell make demand of her, and spend that kiss 

Which is my heaven to have. Come, thou mortal wretch : 
\To an asp^ which she applies to her breast. 

With thy sharp teeth this knot intrinsicate 

Of life at once untie : poor venomous fool, 

Be angry and despatch. couldst thou speak, 

That I might hear thee call great Cfiosar ass 

Unpolicied ! 
Char. O eastern star I 

Cleo. Peace, peace I 

Dost thou not see my baby at my breast 

That sucks the nurse asleep ? 
Char. Obreakl break ! 

Cleo. As sweet as balm, as soft as air, as gentle, — 

Antony ! — ^Nay, I will take thee too : 

{Applying another asp to her arm. 

What should I stay {Dies, 

Char. In this vile world ? So, fare thee welL 

Now boast thee, death, in thy possession lies 

A lass unparalleled. Downy windows, close, 

And golden Phoebus never be beheld 

Of eyes again so royaL 


The subject of Coriolanua is the ruin of a noble life 
through the sin of pride. If duty be the dominant 
ideal with Brutus, and pleasure of a magnificent kind be 
the ideal of Antony and Cleopatra, that which gives tone 
and colour to Coriolanus is an ideal of self-centred power. 
The greatness of Brutus is altogether that of the moral 
conscience ; his external figure does not dilate upon the 
world through a golden haze like that of Antony, nor 

3 1 8 Shakspere — His Mind and A rt. 

bulk massively and tower like that of Coriolanus. Brutus 
venerates his ideals, and venerates himself; but this 
veneration of self is in a certain sense disinterested. 
A haughty and passionate personal feeling, a superb 
^oism are with Coriolanus the sources of weakness and 
of strength- Brutus is tender and considerate to all — ^to 
his household servants, to the boy Lucius, to the poor 
peasantry from whom he will not wring their petty hard- 
earned gains. The Theseus of A Midsummer Night's 
Dream, the great lord and oonquerwr, now in his mood 
of leisure and enjoyment^ is graciously indulgent to the 
rough-handed and thick-witted mechanicals of Athens. 
In Henry V. Shakspere had drawn the figure of a 
man right royal, who yet keeps his sympathies in living 
contact with the humblest of his subjects, and who by 
his real rising above self, his noble disinterestedness is 
saved from arrogance and haughty self-will. On the 
ground of common manhood he can meet John Bates 
and Michael Williams ; and the great king, strong 
because he possesses in himself so large a fund of this 
plain, sound manhood, finds comfort and support in his 
sense of equality with his subjects and fellow soldiers. 
" For though I speak it to you," says Henry while play- 
ing the private soldier on the night before the battle, " I 
think the king is but a man as I am ; the violet smells 
to him as it doth to me; the element shows to him 
as it doth to me ; all his senses have but human 
conditions ; his ceremonies laid by, in his nakedness he 
appears but a man ; and though his aflfections are higher 
mounted than ours, yet when they stoop they stoop with 
the like wing." Only the greatness of a high responsi- 

The Roman Plays. 319 

bility distinguishes the king, and gives him weightier 
cares and nobler toil. Such is the spirit, neither aristo- 
cratic nor, in the modem doctrinaire sense, democratic, 
of Shakspere's Henry V. 

** The whole dramatic moral of Coriolanus," Hazlitt 
wrote, "is that those who have little shall have less, 
and that those who have much shall take all that 
others have left The people are poor, therefore they 
ought to be starved. They are slaves, therefore they 
ought to be beaten. They work hard, therefore they 
ought to be treated like beasts of burden. They are 
ignorant, therefore they ought not to be allowed to 
feel that they want food, or clothing, or rest, that they 
are enslaved, oppressed, and miserable." * This is simply 
impossible ; this is extravagantly untrue^ a piece of the 
passionate ii\justioe which breaks forth every now and 
again in HaaUtt's writings* The dramatic moral of 
Coriolanus lies far nearer to the very opposite of 
Hazlitt's statement. Had the hero of the play pos- 
sessed some of the human sympathies of Henry V., the 
tragic issue would have become impossible. 

"Shakspere," a great modem poet has said, "is 
incarnated, uncompromising feudalism in literature."*)* 
Shakspere is surely something more human and per- 
manent than feudalism : but it is true that he is not in 
a modem sense democratic. That he recognized the 
manly worth and vigotu: of the common English charac- 
ter is evident. It cannot be denied, however, that when 
the people are seen in masses in Shakspere's plays, they 

• Characters of Shakspear's Playi, p. 74 (ed. 1818). 
t Walt. Whitman, Democratio Yiatas, p. 81. 

3 20 Skakspere — His Mind and Art. 

are nearly always shown as factious, fickle, and irrational. 
To explain this fact we need not suppose that Shakspere 
wrote to flatter the prejudice of the jeunease doree of 
the Elizabethan theatre.* How could Shakspere repre- 
sent the people otherwise? In the Tudor period the 
people had not yet emerged. The people, like Milton's 
half-created animals, is still pawing to get free its hinder 
parta from the mire. The mediaeval attempts to resist 
oppression, the risings of peasants or of citizens, inaugu- 
rated commonly by the murder of a Lord or of a Bishop, 
were for the most part desperate attempts, rash and 
dangerous, sustained by no sense of adequate moral or 
material power. It is only after such an immense 
achievement as that of 1789, such a proof of power as 
the French Revolution afforded, that moral dignity, the 
spirit of self-control and self-denial, the heroic devotion 
of masses of men to ideas and not merely interests, could 
begm to manifest themselves. Shakspere studied and 
represented in his art the world which lay before him. 
If he prophesied the future, it was not in the ordinary 
manner of prophets, but only by completely embodying 
the present, in which the future was contained. 

It has been asked if Shakspere had been bom a genera, 
tion later what ride would be have l^en in that great 
on^L" ^^-1;^ Milton st^ggled so nobly on the^ide 

and of Lear a thi^^ T ^ ^" ""' ^^'"^'' 

and pal^otic spi^ ^ "ot "I ""^^ "' "^^^"^ 

which England^^^;,!^ '' "^^ ^'^^^'^ - 

See Runxehn, Shakeapeare-Stndien, p. 222 

The Raman Plays. 321 

Europe. The drama of Hamlet is " a Prcmietheus-sigh 
for £reed(nn and deliverance^ lor honour aad influence, 
for security and peace." It portrays the collision 
between an effete society buttressing itself up against 
the past, and ''an idea, ever young, to which all tiie 
future belongs/' But Shaksp^e's statement of the fact 
concerning the revolutionary epochs of the world is 
uttered, the critic adds, not as a piece of political 
instruction, but as a question to £a.te ; it is, as it were, 
" the first half of a Book of Job," a solemn balancing of 
good and evil in the world, wherein neither appears pre- 
ponderant ; and the longer the poet thought, the more 
definitely the political phenomenon, and its influence 
upon the life and character of individual man assumed 
the shape of an insoluble riddle.^ It is impossible to 
accept this inteqf»:etation of Shakspere's political tenden- 
cies otherwise than as an ingenious reading-in of modem 
ideas between the lines of Shakspere's art. 

But neither can we admit with the champion of so- 
called " realist " criticism, Rumelin, tibat Shakspere per- 
ceived the existence already in Elizabeth's time of the 
Royalist and Roundhead parties, and that being person* 
ally associated with the young Elizabethan nobility, and 
as actor, playwright, and stage-manager, opposed to the 
Puritan bourgeoieie, '* Shakspere was an extreme Royalist, 
and an adherent of the purest water to the Court party 
and the nobles." *)* Ho ; had Shakspere lived when 
Milton lived, he would probably have passed through his 

• Ueber das Dunkel in der Hamlet-Trag&die. Von H. A. Werner. 
Jahrbach der Dentsohen SbAkespeare-GesellBohaft, voL v., pp. 37-81. 
t Kttmelin. Shakespeare-Stadien, p. 217. 


322 Shakspere — His Mind and Art. 

life and gone to the grave in silence. He would 
certainly never have consumed himself in writing 
passionate pamphlets of huge dimensions as Milton 
did on behalf either of this party or of that. We can- 
not suppose that he would have been satisfied with the 
cavalier ideal of manhood, with its gallantry of showy 
devotion to church and king — to the church of Laud and 
the royalty of Charles. We cannot imagine Shakspere 
among the Court singers who grated ''lean and flashy 
songs" on scrannel pipes. But neither could he have 
accepted as complete the Puritan ideal. Sir Toby 
Belch is not an embodiment of the highest wisdom; 
but Malvolio has no answer when the irrepressible 
knight addresses him : " Dost thou think because thou 
art virtuous there shall be no more cakes and ale?" 
Ginger is hot in the mouth, Feste the down justly 
declares ; and tliaX fact must enter into every adequate 
idea of human life. Had Shakspere lived when Milton 
lived, he would have seen and mourned over the breach 
in humanity, the violence done to human happiness and 
human culture by two opposite ideals which tore the 
truth in sunder. It would have been impossible for 
him to attain his own complete development either as 
an artist or as a man. He would have looked on, and 
uttered now and again the cry of pain and indignation, 
" A plague on both your houses ! " 

What were Shakspere's political views ? It is matter 
of congratulation that Shakspere approached history not 
through political theories, or philosophies, but through a 
wide and deep sympathy with human action, and human 
suffering. That a poet of the nineteenth century should 

The Roman Plays. 323 

disregard political theories, and philosophies of history, 
would prove that he was lacking in that very sympathy 
with humanity which made Shakspere what he was. But 
the seventeenth century was one in which, in the world 
of politics, nation struggled with nation, and man with 
man rather than idea with idea. Shakspere has ^ no 
political doctrine to apply to the civil contest of the 
houses of Lancaster and York, by which to resolve the 
claims of the contending parties. If we discover any 
principle in which he had faith, it is that of the right of 
the kingliest nature to be king. The divine right of 
Bichard II., gallantly urged by the Bishop of Carlisle, is 
hardly as sacred in Shakspere's eyes as the divine right 
of the son of the usurping Bolingbroke. It is Henry VI. 
whose over-irritable conscience suggests to him doubts 
respecting the title of his house. Happily we are not 
afflicted by Shakspere with doctrinaire utterances, with 
sentiments liberal or reactionary uttered by the heroes 
of monarchy or of republicanism. A time will perhaps 
come, more favourable to true art than the present, 
when ideas are less outstanding factors in history than 
they have been in this century ; when thought will be 
obscurely present in instinctive action, and in human 
emotion, and will vitalize and inspire these joyously 
rather than tyrannically dominate them. And then men's 
sympathy with the Elizabethan drama will be more 
prompt and sure than in our day it can be. 

Party-spirits are baffled by the great human poet. They 
can with entire ease and self-satisfaction read their several 
creeds, political and religious, into the poetry of Shak- 
spere ; but fimd them there they cannot. Only if we 

3 24 Shakspere — His Mind and Art. 

look for what, is truly human and of permanent interest 
to man we shall not be disappointed. '* Many reproaches 
have been uttered against Shakspere. But the hypocrite 
whom his poetry does not unmask and cover with con- 
fusion, the tyrant who does not sufiFer in himself the 
pangs of conscience, and earn the general hatred, die 
coward who is not made a laughing-stock, the dressed-up 
imposition, w)io, discovered in his nakedness, does not 
experience the poet's annihilating scorn, is in vain to be 
sought for among the historical figures of these dramas." * 
That the people should appear at all in the histories 
of Shakspere is worthy of note. In French tragedy the 
people plays no part ; and naturally, for " French history 
does not speak of the people before the nineteenth 
century." \ Shakspere's representation of the people is 

* F. Kreyssig. Shakespeare-Fragen, pp. 97-98. "Hie diBOuanon of 
tliis subject by Kreyssig is exceUent. ''Shakespeare hatte sich bei 
•einen Zusohauem so wenig Dank verdient als bei den Behorden, weim 
er etwa in der Schildening des Konig Jobaan fttr ^e Barone mid die 
Commuuen gegen den Konig Partei genommen hatte, statt fUr England 
gegen Frankreich und gegen den Papst. Ja, er hatte ganz aus der- ihn 
umgebenden geistigen Attnosphare heraustreten mttssen, nm naoh 
politischer GesinnungstUchtigkeit nnd Greschichtsphilosophie im Sinna 
seiner heutigen Kritiker und Nachahmer zu trachten. Man wird- seine 
Historien vergeblich nach liberalen Sentenzen durchaaohen. Wenn er 
dann aber, von seinem Standpuncte, dabei im Bechte war : sind es 
seine Gegner von dem ihrigen nicht ebenso sehr, indem sie sich lieber 
an den GManken- und Gesinnungshelden unserer modemen historisehoA 
Dramen erbau«L als an den Schlagezn's und Haltefest's, den unbann- 
herzigen Tyrannen, den hochfahrenden Rittem, den intriguanten 
Friestem und leidenschaftlichen Weibem der Shakespeare'scheii 
Historien ? " Shakespeare-Fragen, p. 92. I am indebted to other 
passages in the same lecture for some suggestions. 

t A. M^zi^res. Shakespeare, ses CEuvres et ses Critiques, p. 154. 
M. Mezi^es studies the historical dramas of Shakspere in a high](y 
interesting manner, throwing the characters into groups, — the women, 
the children, the people, the lords, the prelates, the kings. 

The Roman Plays. 325 

by no means harsh or ungenial. He does not discover 
in them heroic virtues ; he does not think that a crowd 
of citizens is invariably veiy wise, patient, or temperate ; 
and he has a certain aversion, quite under control how- 
ever, to the sweaty caps, and grimy hands, and stinking 
breath of garlic-eaters, and men of occupation.* Never- 
theless, Shakspere recognises that the heart of the people 
is sound ; their feelings are generally right, but their 
view of facts is perverted by interests, by passions, by 
stupidity. In the play of Coriolanus the citizens are 
not insensible to the virtues of the great Consul ; they 
appreciate the humorous kindliness of the patrician 
Menenius. But they are as wax in the hands of their 
demagogues. Is Shakspere's representation so wholly 
unjust to the seventeenth century, or even to the 
nineteenth ? He had no political doctrinaire philosophy, 
no humanitarian idealism, to put between himself and 
the facts concerning the character of the people. His 
age did not supply him with humanitarian idealism ; 
but man delighted Shakspere and woman also. Thersites 
was not beyond the range of his sympathy. And to 
Shakspere the people did not appear as Thersites ; at 
worst it appeared as Caliban. 

Further, if Shakspere exposes the vices of a mob, he 
shrinks as little from exposing the vices of a court. 
The wisdom of the populace is not inferior to the 
wisdom of a Folonius. The manners of handicraftsmen 
are as truly gentle as the manners of Osric. Of cere- 
mony Shakspere was no lover, but he was deeply in love 
with all that is sound, substantial, honest Prince Henry 
* KreysBig. Sliakespeare-Fragen, p. 95. 

326 Shakspere — His Mind and Art. 

flies from the inanimate, bloodless, and insincere world 
of his father's court to the society of drawers and carriers 
in Eastcheap. In the play of Coriolanus, the intolerant 
haughtiness and injustice of the patrician is brutal and 
stupid, not less, but rather more, than the plebeian in- 
constancy and turbulence. 

In Shakspere's late play. The Tempest, written when 
he was about to retire for good to his Stratford home, he 
indulges in a sly laugh at the principles of communism. 
He who had earned the New Place, and become a landed 
gentleman by years of irksome toil, did not see that he 
was bound to share his tenements and lands with his less 
industrious neighbours. On the contrary, he meant to 
hold them himself by every legal title, and at his decease 
to hand them down to his daughter and her sons, and 
sons' sons. Into the mouth of the honest old counsellor, 
Gonzalo, the dramatist puts the pleasant theory of com- 
munism and of human perfectibility, and Gonzalo is 
amusingly landed in the inconsequence of resolving to 
be himself sovereign of his kingless commonwealth.^ In 
Shakspere's earliest play, or one of the earliest, Henry YI., 
and in a passage certainly not written by Marlowe, nor 
in the manner of Greene, Jack Cade announces his 
intended reformation of the state of England. ''Be 
brave, then ; for your captain is brave, and vows reforma- 
tion. There shall be in England seven halfpenny loaves 
sold for a penny ; the three-hooped pot shall have ten 
hoops ; and I will make it felony to drink small beer ; 

* Sliakspere borrows his imaginary commonwealth from Montaigne. 
On Shakflpere's obligations to Montaigne, see M. Fhilarite Chaales : 
Etudes sur Shakespeare, pp. 162-187. 

The Raman Plays. 327 

all the realm shall be in common, and in Cheapside shall 
my palfrey go to grass : and when I am king, as king I 
will be — ." And the people shout, " God save your 
Majesty ! '' George Bevis and John Holland discuss 
affairs of State : 

Bevi», I tell thee, Jack Cade the clothier meaiiB to dress the com- 
monwealth, and torn it, and get a new nap upon it. 

BoU, So he had need, for 'tis threadbare. Well, I say it was 
never merry world in England since gentlemen came up. 

Bevis, miserable age ! virtue is not regarded in handicraftsmen. 

HoJL The nobility think scorn to go in leather aprons. 

Bevu. Nay, more, the King's council are no good workmen. 

HoVL True; and yet it is said labour in thy vocation; which is 
as much as to say, let the magistrates be labouring men; and there- 
fore should we be magistrates. 

Btviii, Thou hast hit it; for there's no better sign of a brave mind 
than a hard hand. 

" An audience," writes Mr Walter Bagehot, " which horva, 
fide entered into the merit of this scene, would never 
believe in everybody's suffirage. They would know that 
there is such a thing as nonsense, and when a man has 
once attained to that deep conception, you may be sure 
of him ever after. . . . The author of Coriolanus never 
believed in a mob, and did something towards preventing 
anybody else from doing so. But this political idea was 
not exactly the strongest in Shakspere's mind. . . . 
He had two others stronger, or as strong. First, the 
feeling of loyalty to the ancient polity of this coimtry, 
not because it was good, but because it existed. . . . 
The second peculiar tenet which we ascribe to his politi- 
cal creed is a disbelief in the middle classes. We fear 
he had no opinion of traders. . . . You will generally 
find that when a 'citizen' is mentioned, he does or 

328 Shakspere — His Mind and Art. 

says something absurd.'^ Shakspere had a dear percep- 
tion that it is possible to bribe a class as well as an in- 
dividual. . . . He everywhere speaks in praise of a 
tempered, and ordered, and qualified polity, in which the 
pecuniary classes have a certain influence, but no more ; 
and shows in every page a keen sensibility to the large 
views and high-souled energies, the gentle refinements 
and disinterested desires in which those classes are likely 
to be especially deficient. He is particularly the poet 
of personal nobility, though throughout his writings there 
is a sense of freedom; just as Milton is the poet of 
fireedom, though with an underlying reference to personal 
nobility ; indeed, we might well expect our two poets to 
combine the appreciation of a rude and generous liberty 
with that of a deUcate and refined nobleness, since it is 
the union of these two elements that characterises our 
society and their experience." f 

Although the play of Coriolanus almost inevitably 
suggests a digression into the consideration of the politics 
of Shakspere, it must once again be asserted that the 
central and vivifying element in the play is not a politic 
cal problem, but an individual character and life. The 
tragic struggle of the play is not that of patricians with 
plebeians, but of Coriolanus with his own self It is not 
the Roman people who bring about his destruction; 

* Not alwikys* See, for example, King Richard III., Act II., Be 3, 
where a "divine instinct" informing men's minds of coming dangor 
moves in the breasts of the citizens. 

+ Walter Bagehot. Estimates of some Englishmen and Scotchmen, 
pp. 267-260. See on the subject generally of the literature of aristo- 
cratic and of democratic epochs the writer's article, " The. Poetry of 
I>emocracy— Walt. Whitman," WaPn^inAvr RtiMw, July 1871. 

The Roman Plays. 329 

it is the patrician haughtiness and passionate self- 
will of Coriolanus himself. Were the contest of 
political parties the chief interest of Shakspere's drama, 
the figures of the Tribunes must have been drawn upon 
a larger scale. They would have been endowed with 
. something more than '^ foxship." As representatives of 
a great principle, or of a power constantly tending in 
one direction, they might have appeared worthy rivals of 
the leaders of the patrician party ; and the fall of Corio- 
lanus would be signalised by some conquest and advance 
of the tide of popular power.* Shakspere's drama is 
the drama of individuality, including under this name all 
those bonds of duty and of affection which attach man to 
his fellow-man, but not impersonal principles and ideas.*)* 
The passion of patriotism, high-toned and enthusiastic, 
stands with Shakspere instead of general political prin- 
ciples and ideas, and the life of the individual is widened 
and elevated by the national life^ to which the individual 
surrenders himself with gladness and with pride. 

The pride of Coriolanus is however not that which 
comes from self-surrender to and union with some power, or 
person, or principle higher than oneself. It is two-fold, 
a passionate self-esteem which is essentially egoistic ; and 
secondly a passionate prejudice of class. His nature is 

* I owe this observation to ProfesBor H. Th. Rotscher : Shakespeare 
in seinen hochsten Charactergebilden, &c. Dresden, 1864, p. 20. 

+ "His [Sliakspere's] drama is the drama of individutiUty. . . . 
Shakspere shows neither the consciousness of a law, nor of humanity ; 
the future is mute in his dramas, and enthusiasm for great principles 
unknown. His genius comprehends and sums up the past and the 
present ; it does not initiate the future. He interpreted an epoch ; he 
announced none." Joseph Mazzini, life and Writings, vol. iL, pp. 
133, 134. See Bttmelin. Shakespeare-Studien, pp. 169, 170. 

33^ Shakspere — His Mind and Art. 

the reverse of oold or selfish ; his sympathies are deep, 
warm, and generous ; but a line, hard and fast, has been 
drawn for him by the aristocratic tradition, and it is only 
within that line that he permits his sympathies to play. 
To the surprise of the Tribunes, he can accept well- 
pleased a subordinate command under Cominius. He 
yields with kindly condescension to accept the devotion 
and fidelity of Menenius, and cherishes towards the old 
man a filial regard — ^the feeling of a son, who has the 
consciousness that he is greater than his father. He 
must dismiss Menenius disappointed from the Volsdan 
camp ; but he contrives an innocent fraud by means of 
which the old senator will femcy that he has effected 
more for the peace of Bome than another could. For 
Virgilia, the gentle woman in whom his heart finds rest, 
Coriolanus has a manly tenderness, and constant fresh- 
ness of adhesion : 

0, a kiss 

Ix>ng as my exile, sweet as my reyeoge ! 

Now by the jealous queen of heaven, that kias 

I carried from thee, dear ; and my true lip 

Hath yirgin'd it e'er since. 

In his boy he has a father's joy, and yields to an ambitious 

hope, and a yearning forward to his son's possible future 

of heroic action, in which there is something of touching, 

paternal weakness : 

The god of soldiers, 
With the consent of supreme Jove, inform 
Thy thoughts with nobleneas ; that thou may'st prove 
To shame imvulnerable, and stick i' the wars 
Like a great sea-mark, standing every flaw, 
And saving those that eye thee ! 

His wife's friend Valeria is the " moon of Rome," 

The Raman Plays. 331 

Chaste as the icicle 
That's cardied by the frost from purest snow 
And hangs on Dian's temple.* 

In his mother Yolunmia, the awful Roman matron, he 

rejoices with a noble enthusiasm and pride; and while 

she is present always feels himself by comparison with 

this great mother, inferior and unimportant. 

But Cominius, Menenius, and Virgilia, Valeria and 

Volunmia, and his boy belong to the privileged daas ; they 

are patrician. Beyond this patrician class neither his 

sympathies nor his imagination find it possible to range. 

The plebeians are " a common cry of curs " whose breath 

Coriolanus hates. He cannot like Bolingbroke flatter 

their weakness while he despises them inwardly. He 

is not even indifferent towards them ; he rather rejoices 

in their malice and displeasure ; if the nobility would let 

him use his sword he would make a quarry ''with 

thousands of these quarter'd slaves/' as high as he could 

pick his lance. Sicinius the Tribune is " the Triton of 

the minnows." When Coriolanus departs from Rome, as 

though all the virtue of the city were resident in himself, 

he reverses the apparent fact, and pronounces a sentence 

of banishment against those whom he leaves behind ; " / 

baadsh you." Brutus is warranted by the fact when he 

You speak o' the people 
As if you were a god to punish, not 
A man of their infirmity. 

* Obflerve the extraordinary yital beauty, and illuminating quality 
of Shakspere's metaphors and aimiles. A common-place poet would 
have written " as chaste as snow ; " but Shakspere's imagination dis- 
covers degrees of chastity in ice and snow, and chooses the chastest of 
all frozen things. On this subject see an excellent study by Rev. H. 
N. Hudson. Shakespeare : his life, Art, and Characters, voL 1, pp. 

332 Shakspere — His Mind and Art 

And yet the weakness, the inconstancy, and the 
incapacity of apprehending facts which are the vices of 
thp people, reflect and repeat themselves in the great 
patrician; his aristocratic vices counterbalance their 
plebeian. He is rigid and obstinate ; but under the 
influence of an angry egoism he can renounce his prin- 
ciples, his party and his native city. He will not bear 
away to his private use the paltry booty of the Voices ; 
but to obtain the consulship he is urged by his proud 
mother and his patrician firiends to stand bareheaded 
before the mob, to expose his wounds, to sue for their 
votes, to give his heart the lie, to bend the knee like a 
b^gar asking an alms. The judgment and blood of 
Coriolanus are ill commingled ; he desires the end, but 
can only half submit to the means which are necessary to 
attain that end ; he has not sufficient self-control to 
enable him to dispose of those chances of which he is 
lord. And so he mars his fortune. The pride of 
Coriolanus, as Mr Hudson has observed, is " rendered 
altogether inflammable and uncontrollable by passion ; 
insomuch that if a spark of provocation is struck into 
the latter, the former instantly flames up beyond 
measure, atid sweeps away all the regards of prudence, of 
decorum, and even of common sense." * Now such 
passion as this Shakspere knew to be weakness and not 
strength ; and by this uncontrollable violence of temper 
Coriolanus draws down upon himself his banishment 
from Rome, and his subsequent fate. 

At the moment when he passes forth through the gates 
of the city, and only then, his passion instead of break- 
* Shakespeare : his life, Art and Characters, toL ii., p. 473. 

The Roman Plays. 333 

ing violently fortib, subdues his nature in a more evil 

fashion and becomes dark and deadly. He feels that he 

has been deserted by "the dastard nobles," and given 

over as a prey to the mob. He who had been so warm, 

so generous, so loyal towards his class now feels himself 

betrayed \ and the deadly need of revenge, together with 

the sense Ihat he is in solitude and must depend upon 

his own strength and prudence, makes him calm. He 

endeavours to pacify his mother, and to check the 

old man's tears ; he utters no violent speech. Only one 

obscure and formidable word escapes his lips : 

I go alone 
Lake to a l<»ely dragon that bis fen 
Makes feared and talked of more than seen. 

And in this spirit he strides forward towards Corioli. 

No passage in the play is quick with such bright, 
spontaneous, almost lyrical feeling as the address of 
his defeated rival to Coriolanus, when he finds the great 
leader an unbidden guest within his house at Antium. 
Enthusiasm about great personalities finds nobler ex- 
pression perhaps in the writings of Shakspere than in 
those of any other poet of any country. The reader will 
recall that wonderful outbreak of admiration and hom- 
age from the aged Nestor when he gazes for the first 
time upon Hector's unhelmeted head : — 

I have, thou gallant Trojan, seen thee oft, 
Labouring for destmyt make cruel way 
Through ranks of Greekish youth, and I have seen thee 
As hot as Perseus spur thy Phrygian steed, 
Despising many forfeits and subduements, • 
When thou hast hung thy adyanced sword T the air, 
Not letting it decline on the declined, 
That I have said to some my standera by^ 
* Lo Jupiter is yonder^ dealing life I* 

334 Shakspere — His Mind and A rL 

And I have seen thee pause and take thy breath, 
When that a ring of Greeks have hemm'd thee in, 
Like an Olympian wrestling. 

And the old man continues in the like strain until 
almost breath must fail him. The instantaneous and 
involuntary homage paid by Aufidius to Coriolanus is 
the same in kind — ^the overwhelming joy of standing 
face to face with veritable human greatness and nobility. 
But Coriolanus has found in Antixmi no second home. 
Honoured and deferred to, tended on, and treated as 
almost sacred, he is still the ^' lonely dragon that his fen 
makes fear'd." Cut off from his kindred and his friends, 
wronged by his own passionate sense of personality, his 
violent egoism, he resolves to stand 

As if a man were author of himself, 
And knew no other kin. 

But the loves and loyalties to which he has done 
violence, react against him. The struggle, prodigious and 
pathetic, begins, between all that is massive, stem, in- 
flexible and all that is tender and winning in his nature ; 
and the strength is subdued by the weakness. It is as 
if an oak were rent and uprooted not by the stroke of 
lightning, but by some miracle of gentle yet irresistible 
music. And while Coriolanus yields under the influence 
of an instinct not to be controlled, he possesses the dis- 
tinct consciousness that such yielding is mortal to 
himself. He has come to hate and to conquer, but he 
must needs perish and love : — 

My wif^ comes foremost ; then the honoured mould 
Wherein this trunk was framed, and in her hand 
The grandchild to her blood. But, out, affection ! 
All bond and privilege of nature, break ! 

The Raman Plays, 335 

Let it be yirtnons to be obstinate 1 

What is that curt'sy worth ? or those doyes^ eyes, 

Which can make gods forsworn ? I melt, and am not 

Of stronger earth than others. My mother bows ; 

As if Olympus to a molehill should 

In supplication nod ; and my young boy 

Hath an aspect of intercession, which 

Great nature cries ' Deny not.* 

The convulsive efforts to maintain his hajrdness and 
rigidity ajre in vain ; Coriolanus yields ; his obstinacy and 
pride are broken ; he is compelled to learn that a man 
cannot stand as if he were author of himself. And so 
the fortunes of Coriolanus fall, but the man rises with 
that fall. 

Delivered from patrician pride, and his long habit of 
egoism, Coriolanus cannot be. The purely human influ- 
ences have reached him through the only approaches by 
which he was accessible — through his own family. To 
the plebeian class he must still remain the intolerant 
patrician. Nevertheless, he has undergone a profound 
experience ; he has acknowledged purely human influ- 
ences in the only way in which it was possible for him 
to do so. No single experience, Shakespeare was aware, 
can deliver the soul from the long habit of passionate 
egoism. And, accordingly, at the last it is this which 
betrays him into the hands of the conspirators. His 
conduct before Rome is about to be judicially enquired 
into at Antium. But the word " boy," ejaculated against 
him by Aufidius, " touches Coriolanus into an ecstasy of 

rage : " — 

Boy ! slave ! 
Pardon me, lords, 'tis the first time that ever 
I was forced to scold . . . 

336 Shakspere — His Mind and Art, 

Boy! false hound ! 
If you have writ yotur annals tnie, tiis tfcere 
That, Hke an eagle in a dore-cote, I 
Fluttered your Y olBctans in Gorioli ; 
Alone, I did it. Boy 1 

And in a moment the fiworda of the conspiiatoiB have 

pierced him. A Volscian loixl, reverent for fallen great- 

nesB, protects the body * — 

Tread not upon him. Maflten all, be quiet ; 
Put up your flwoida. 

So suddenly has he passed from towering pasai<»L to 
the helplessness of death ; the victim of his own violent 
egoism, and uncontrollable self-wilL We remain with 
the sense that a great gap in the world has been made ; 
that a sea-mark ** standing every flaw " has for all 
time disappeared. We see the lives of smaller men still 
going on; we repress all violence of lamentation, and 
hear about with us a memory in whidi pride and pity 
are blended. 



A STUDY of Sbakspere which fidls to take account of 
Shakspere's humour must remain essentially incom- 
plete. The character and spiritual history of a man 
who is endowed with a capacity for humourous apprecia- 
tion of the world must differ throughout and in every par- 
ticular from that of the man whose moral nature has 
never rippled over with genial laughter. At whatever 
final issue Shakspere arrived after long spiritual travail as 
to the attainment of his life, that precise issue rather than 
another was arrived at in part by virtue of the fact of 
Shakspere's humour. In the composition of forces 
which determined the orbit traversed by the mind of the 
poet this must be allowed for as a force among others, in im- 
portance not the least, and efficient at all times, even when 
little apparent A man whose visage " holds one stem 
intent " from day to day, and whose joy becomes at times 
almost a supernatural rapture, may descend through circles 
of hell to the narrowest and the lowest ; he may mount 
from sphere to sphere of Paradise imtil he stands within 
the light of the divine majesty ; but he will hardly succeed 
in presenting us with an adequate image of life as it is 
on this earth of ours in its oceanic amplitude and variety. 
A few men of genius there have been, who, with vision 


338 Shakspere — His Mind and Art. 

penetrative as lightning, have gazed as it were through 
life, at some eternal significances of which life is the 
symbol. Intent upon its sadred meaning they have had 
no eye to note the forms of the grotesque hieroglyph of 
human existence. Such men are not framed for laughter. 
To this little group the creator of Falstaff, of Bottom^ 
and of Touchstone does not belong. 

Shakspere, who saw life more widely and wisely 
than any other of the seers, could laugh. That is a 
comfortable fact to bear in mind ; a fact which serves to 
rescue us from the domination of intense and narrow 
natures, who claim authority by virtue of their grasp of 
one half of the realities of our existence and their denial 
of the rest Shakspere could laugh.^ But we must go 
on to ask " What did he laugh at ? and what was the 
manner of his laughter ? " There are as many modes of 
laughter as there are facets of the common soul of hu- 
manity to reflect the humourous appearances of the 
world. Hogarth in one of his pieces of coarse, yet 
subtile engraving, has presented a group of occupants of 
the pit of a theatre sketched during the performance of 
some broad comedy or farce. What proceeds upon the 
stage is invisible and undiscoverable save as we catch its 
reflection on the faces of the spectators, in the same way 
that we infer a sunset from the evening flame upon win- 
dows that front the west Each laughing face in Ho- 
garth's print exhibits a different mode or a different 
stage of the risible paroxysm. There is the habitual 
enjoyer of the broad comic abandoned to his mirth which 
is open and unashamed, mirth which he is evidently a 
match for, and able to sustain. By his side is a com- 

The Humour of Sfiakspere. 339 

panion female portrait, a woman with head thrown back 
to ease the violence of the guffaw ; all her loose redundant 
flesh is tickled into an orgasm of merriment ; she is fairly 
overcome. On the other side sits the spectator who has 
passed the climax of his laughter; he wipes the tears 
from his eyes, and is on the way to regain an insecure 
and temporary composure. Below appears a girl of 
eighteen or twenty, whose vacancy of intellect is captured 
and occupied by the innocuous folly still in progress ; she 
gazes on expectantly, assured that a new blossom of the 
wonder of absurdity is about to display itself. Her 
father, a man who does not often surrender himself to an 
indecent convulsion, leans his face upon his hand, and 
with the other steadies himself by grasping one of the 
iron spikes that enclose the orchestra. In the right 
comer sits the humourist, whose eyes, around which the 
wrinkles gather, are half closed, while he already goes 
over the jest a second time in his imagination. At the 
opposite side an elderly woman is seen, past the period 
when animal violences are possible, laughing because 
she knows there is something to laugh at, though she is 
too dull-witted to know jM'edsely what. One spectator, 
as we guess from his introverted air, is laughing to think 
what some body else would think of this. Finally, the 
thin-lipped, perk-nosed person of refinement looks aside, 
and by his critical indifference condemns the broad, in- 
judicious mirth of the company. 

All these laughers of Hogarth are very commonplace, 
and some are very vulgar persons ; one trivial, ludicrous 
spectacle is the occasion of their mirth. When from 
such laughter as this we turn to the laughter of men of 

340 Shakspere — His Mind and Art, 

genius, who gaze at the total play of the world's life, and- 
when we listen to this, as with the ages it goes on 
gathering and swelling, our sense of hearing is enveloped 
and almost annihilated by the chorus of mock and jest, 
of antic and buffoonery, of tender mirth and indignant 
satire, of monstrous burlesque and sly absurdity, of 
desperate misanthropic derision, and genial, affectionate 
caressing of human imperfection and human folly. We 
hear from behind the mask the enormous laughter of 
Aristophanes, ascending peal above peal, until it passes 
into jubilant ecstasy or from the uproar springs some ex- 
quisite lyric strain. We hear laughter of passionate in- 
dignation from Juvenal, the indignation of " the ancient 
and free soul of the dead republics." * And there is 
Babelais, with his huge buffoonery, and the earnest eyes 
intent 'on freedom which look out at us in the midst of 
the zany's tumblings, and indecencies. And Cervantes, 
with his refined Castilian air, and deep melancholy mirth 
at odds with the enthusiasm which is dearest to his soul. 
And Moli^re, with his laughter of unerring good sense, 
undeluded by fashion, or vanity, or folly, or hypocrisy, 
and brightly mocking these into modesty. And Milton, 
with his fierce objurgatory laughter, Elijah-like insult 
against the enemies of freedom and of England. And 
Voltaire, with his quick intellectual scorn, and eager malice 
of the brain. And there is the urbane and amiable play 
of Addison's invention, not capable of large achievement, 
but stirring the comers of the mouth with a humane 

* "Juvenal, c'est la vieille &me libre des r^publiqties mortes ; il a ea 
lui une Rome dansrairain de laquelle sont fondues Ath^nes et Sparte." 
Victor Hugo. William Shakespeare, p. 45. (ed. 1869.) 

The Humour of Shakspere. 341 

smile, — ^gracious gaiety for the breakfast tables of Eng- 
land. And Fielding's careless mastery of the whole, 
broad, common field of mirth. And Sterne's exquisite 
curiosity of oddness, his subtile extravagances and 
humours prepense. And there is the tragic laughter of 
Swift, which annoimces the extinction of reason, and 
loss beyond recovery of human faith, and charity, and 
hope. How in this chorus of laughters, joyous and terrible, 
is the laughter of Shakspere distinguishable ? 

In the first place the humour of Shakspere like his 
total genius is many-sided. He does not pledge him- 
self as dramatist to any oiie view of human life. If we 
open a novel by Charles Dickens, we feel assured before- 
hand that we are copdemned to an exuberance of philan- 
thropy ; we know how the writer will insist that we 
must all be good friends, all be men and brothers- intoxi- 
cated with the delight of one another's presence ; we 
expect him to hold out the right hand of fellowship to 
man, woman, and child ; we are prepared for the bacchan- 
nalia of benevolenca The lesson we have to learn from 
this teacher is that, with the exception of a few inevitable 
and incredible monsters of cruelty, every man naturally 
engendered of the offspring of Adam is of his own nature 
inclined to every amiable virtue. Shakspere abounds in 
kindly mirth ; he receives an exquisite pleasure from the 
alert wit and bright good sense of a Rosalind ; he can 
dandle a fool as tenderly as any nurse qualified to take a 
baby from the birth can deal with her charga But Shak- 
spere is not pledged to deep-dyed, ultra-amiability. With 
Jacques he can rail at the world, while remaining 
curiously aloof from all deep concern about its interests. 

342 SAakspere — His Mind and Art. 

this way or that. With Timon he can turn upon the 
world with a rage no less than that of Swift, and dis- 
cover in man and woman a creature as abominable as 
the Yahoo. In other words, the humour of Shakspere, 
like his total genius, is dramatic. 

Then again, although Shakspere laughs incomjiarably, 
mere laughter wearies him. The only play of Shakspere's, 
out of nearly forty, which is farcical, The Comedy of 
Errors, was written in the poet^s earliest period of author- 
ship, and was formed upon the suggestion of a preceding 
piece. It has been observed with truth by Gervinus 
that the farcical incidents of this play have been con- 
nected by Shakspere with a tragic back-ground, which is 
probably his own invention. With beauty, or with 
pathos, or with thought, Shakspere can mingle his mirth, 
and then he is happy, and knows how to deal with play 
of wit or humourous characterization ; but an entirely 
comic subject somewhat disconcerts the poet. On this 
ground, if no other were forthcoming, it might be sus- 
pected that the Taming of the Shrew was not altogether 
the work of Shakspere's hand. The secondary intrigues 
and minor incidents were of Kttle interest to the poet. 
But m the buoyant force of Petruchio's character, in his 
subduing tempest of high spirits, a^d in the person of 
^e foikd revoltress against i;t.. law of sex, who carries 

TwnTnf "^^ "^ *^ *" "^^^ ^--gy -^-1^ ^- ^^ 

huZ 2'LJ"^" T'^^^ there were elements of 

human character m whirh ♦v.^ • . . 

took deUght* ^^ "nagmation of the poet 

• * * Farmer nearly a hundred years 
the Petruchio scenes in the * Taming ^if *^£**^* Shakspere wrote only 
mgly adopted this view. Mr Qra^ wt •! ^*^'^^.' Mr CoUier hesitat- 

* Wluto developt it, and I (and Mr 

The Humour of Shakspere. 343 

Unless it be its own excess, however, Sliakspere's 
laughter seems to fear nothing. It does not, when it 
has once arrived at its full development, fear enthusiasm, 
or passion, or tragic intensity ; nor do these fear it. The 
traditions of the English drama had favoured the juxta- 
position of the serious and comic ; but it was reserved 
for Shakspere to make each a part of the other ; to in- 
terpenetrate tragedy with comedy, and comedy with tragic 
earnestness. In Marlowe's " Doctor Faustus," as we now 
possess it, the scenes of extravagant burlesque are merely 
a divertiaaement after the terror and awful solemnity of 
the tragic scenes. One cannot but desire to believe that 
such passages of rude burlesque w^e the invention of 
some clumsy playwright, and not the laborious degrada- 
tion of his own art by Marlowe, who possessed no gift of 
humour. In " Doctor Faustus " the juxta-position of the 
elevated and the burlesque scenes produces an effect as 
incongruous as if a group of Dutch boors carousing in a 
tavern of Teniers were transferred into some great 
sacred or classical composition by lionardo da Yinci or 
Raffaele. The serious and the comic portions of the 
play move upon different planes of feeling, and the one 

Fleay afterwards), tamed it into figures, making the following parts 
Shakspere's, though in many places they are workt up by him from the 
old Taming of a Shrew :— Induction ; Act II., so. i., 1. 168-326 (? touch- 
ing 116-167); III. ii. 1-126, 161-240 ; IV. i. (and ii Dyce) ; IV. iii. v. 
(iv. vi. Dyce); V. ii., 1-180; in short the parts of Katharine and 
Petruchio, and almost all Grumio, with the characters on the stage with 
them, and possible occasional touches elsewhere. (New Sh. Soc. Trans. 
1874, 103-1 10). The rest is by the alterer and adapter of the old 'A 
Shrew ' probably Marlowe, as there are deliberate copies or plagiarisms 
of him in ten passages (G. White)." F. J. FumivalL IVeface to Ger- 
vinns' Shakespeare Commentaries, 1874 I cannot accept the opinion 
that Marlowe was the adapter of the " Taming of a Shrew." 

344 Shakspere — His Mind and Art 

eannot assist or co-operate with the other. In Shakspere's 
earliest tragedy his method is already in existence. He 
is not afraid that the passion and the anguish of the 
lives of Romeo and Juliet will suffer abatement because 
Mercutio coruscates and scintillates, or because the Kuise 
puffs and perspires, tells long-winded stories and tipples 
her aqvji vUw. In " The Two Gentlemen of Verona^" 
whUe Julia standing by disguised hears her faithless 
lover devoting himself to Silvia, the Host faUs sound 
asleep. This is quite as it should be. The world is 
not all made for passionate young gentlemen and ladies. 
The stout body of mine Host has its rights and dues also : 
" By my halidom I was fast asleep." Shakspere's humour 
here is a portion of his fidelity to the fact, his content in 
seeing things as they are, his justice, his impartiality. 
The clown laughs at the lover, and not without a fair 
show of clown-like common sense. Shakspere is disposed 
to let no side of a fact escape him. If it have a trivial, 
ludicrous aspect, by all means let us have that put upon 
record. The valet-de-chambre range of emotion is as un- 
deniable a piece of reality as is the heroic ; and the world 
somehow is wide enough for both valet and hero. It is 
desirable to ascertain what lights the one may throw 
upon the other. 

This apparent holdiog himself aloof from, and above 
his own creations, his perfect impartiality towards each 
person, and sometimes towards the entire action of his 
drama, is what Schlegel has spoken of as Shak- 
spere's irony. This irony Schlegel has said is "the 
grave of enthusiasm. We arrive at it only after we 
have had the misfortune to see human nature through 

The Humour of Shakspere. 345 

and through ; and when no choice remains but to adopt 
the melancholy truth that 'no virtue or greatness is 
altogether pure or genuine/ or the dangerous error that 
' the highest perfection is attainable.'" " Here," the critic 
continues, " we therefore may perceive in the poet him- 
self, notwithstanding his power to excite the most fervent 
emotions, a certain cool indifference, but still the in- 
difference of a superior mind, which has run through the 
whole sphere of human existence and survived feeling."* 
In this criticism by Schlegel there is an appearance of 
truth, but no more than an appearance. Shakspere's 
impartiality towards the persons and motives of his plays 
is not real aloofness. It rather proceeds from his pro- 
found interest in his subject, his determination to do 
justice to every side of it. " In troth," exclaims Prince 
Henry, "I do now remember the poor creature small 
beer, but, indeed, these humble considerations make 
me out of love with my greatness." Does Shakspere 
feel less enthusiasm for the glorious manhood of Henry 
because Henry remembers the poor creature small beer ? 
No : Shakspere is prepared to admit that Henry is 
every whit human, and therefore it is that the splendour 
of his manhood strengthens us, and fills us as it were 
with a personal pride and joy : — 

I saw yoang Harry with his beaver on, 

His cuiases on his thighs, gaUantly ann'd. 

Rise from the ground like feathered Mercury, 

And vaulted with such ease into his Beat, 

As if an angel dropped down from the clouds, 

To turn and wind a fiery Pegasus 

And witch the world with noble honsemanship. 

* Lecture on Dramatic Art and Literature, by A. W. Schlegel (ed. 
1846.) p. 369. 

346 Shakspere — His Mind and Art, 

It is because Shakspere so entirely acknowledges the 
heroic in Henry that he has no timidity in risking his 
reputation as hero, by confession of the common incidents 
of humanity, heroic as well as non-heroic. That a most 
Christian king should each morning receive his peruke 
inserted upon a cane through an aperture of his bed- 
curtains is entirely correct ; for the valet cannot retain 
&ith in a perukeless grand monarch. But Shakspere 
dares to inspect his hero as '^unaccommodated man." 
" Unaccommodated man is no more but such a poor, bare, 
forked animal as thou art^" exclaims Lear to the shivering 
Edgar ; and yet he is at the same time '' How noble in 
reason ! how infinite in faculty ! in form and moving how 
express and admirable ! in action how like an angel ! in 
apprehension how like a god I the beauty of the world ! 
the paragon of animals ! " 

Shakspere recognized both our human imperfection 
and our human greatness; he denied the one as little 
as the other; hence his enthusiasm is not suppressed 
by, but at one with his tenderness, his pity, his 
pathos. Desdemona falters from the truth before the 
terrible eye of her husband ; but she utters her dying 
and redeeming falsehood. Imogen's quick resentment 
wrongs for a moment the honour of Posthumus ; but 
Imogen's arms around Posthumus' neck do more than 
make amends. A woman is dearer to Shakspere than 
an angel ; a man is better than a god. At the Diet of 
Worms in 1521, his imperial Majesty, who did not know 
high German required Martin Luther to repeat his long 
defence in the Latin tongue. The sweat flowed on 
Luther's forehead ; his lungs were exhausted, his throat 

• The Humour of Shakspere. 347 

was parched. The Duke of Brunswick, who sat by his 
side, despatched a servant for three flagons of the best 
Eimbeck beer. " I shall never forget that noble action/' 
writes Heine, with a genuine burst of delight in the 
homely heroism of our dear master Martin Luther, 
" which does so much honour to the house of Brunswick." * 
The Host falls fast asleep while Julia's heart is only just 
sound and strong enough to keep from breaking. Dots 
the propinquity of the snoring host make the anguish of 
Julia less real ? Must we suppose that love was an il- 
lusion which Shakspere had transcended because Friar 
Laurence moralizes on the violent ends of violent delights ? 
In Antony and Cleopatra a clown bears the basket in 
which is hidden " the pretty worm of Nilus that kills and 
pains not." Is Shakspere indifferent to the gravity of 
dying because a grotesque rustic becomes the messenger 
of death to the great Egyptian queen ? Is dying not al- 
together a reality ? Assuredly, though a clown has brought 
the basket, the worm " will do his kind " upon Iras, and 
Charmian, and Cleopatra. Death is real. Anguish and 
love are real, though Peter call for some " merry dump " 
to comfort him, and though mine Host yield to the 
luxurious obsession of a snooza 

Tragedy with Shakspere becomes more tragic because 
it lies surrounded by the common realities of life. 
Heroics which are so elevated as to disdain all that is 
actual and ordinary, like those of the Restoration drama 
and that of a subsequent period, tend rapidly to become 
pseudo-heroics, and affect us, in the end, as actually comic, 
— a ridiculous, undesigned parody of genuine nobility of 
* Heine. Sammtliche Werke. YoL t. Ueber Dentschland, p. 76. 

348 Shakspere — His Mind and Art, 

feeling and conduct. Hector becomes Drawcansir. The 
statuesque group of which Whiskerandos is the centre, — 
uncles and nieces, — stand in menacing attitude at a dead- 
lock, each with a dagger at the breast. Shakspere, a 
German poet has said, inoculates his tragedy with a comic 
virus, and thus it is preserved from the great disease of 
absurdity.* Abstract from Romeo and Juliet the scenes 
in which the serving- men bite thumbs, the scenes in 
which Mercutio jests, those in which the nurse lets loose 
her wanton tongue, those in which old Capulet fusses and 
frets, and leave only the passages of joy and of sorrow 
between the lovers, — how insubstantial the joy and the 
sorrow appear ! In order that the angels in the dream 
of Jacob might descend to this abiding-place of ours, and 
might ascend again, there was needed " a ladder set up 
on the earth, the top of which reached to heaven." The 
ardours and virtues, and spiritual presences of the human 
soul are most energetically operant when they find footing 
on this ladder, which has its base upon the common ground. 

* Das Komiache ist der natUrliche Feind des Gravitatischen, es ver- 
halt sich zum Tra^rischen wie die sogenannte geforderte Farbe zu der 
andem (Gothe) ; wenn man nicht Roth mit Grtin abwechseln lasst, so 
wird zuletzt das Roth selber Griin. So wird das Tragische komisch, 
das Komische langweilig. In der Beimischnng Ton Humor liegt eine 
Art Inoculation der komischen Kuhpocken, damit nicht die Menschen- 
pocken, e^.i, der Umschlag in's Lacherliche eintrete. Dann voUendet 
sich durch die Hinzuthat des Komischen zum Tiagischen erst die Welt- 
ganzheit, die Ganzheit des Lebens. So haben Shakespeare's Figuren ihr 
charakteristiBches Pathos nicht immer wie ein Kleid am Leibe, sie haben 
noch andere leichtere Charakterztige, die in mittleren Zustiinden jene ^ 
lange ersetzen, bis sie wieder eintreten, undbesonders in diesem Wech- 
sel Uegt eine wunderbare Wirklichkeit ihres Lebens und des ganzen 
Sttlckes. Die vertraulichste Sprache gewohnlicher Zustande und der 
kilhnste Schwung des Pathos in den ausserordentlichsten Situationen ; 
dazwischen eine Unendlichkeit von Mitteltinten.'* Otto Ludwig. Shake- 
spearo-Studien, pp. 7,8. 

The Humour of Shakspere. 349 

Can we discover any single expression which wUl 
resume the various humourous appearances of life as 
they presented themselves to Shakspere ? It would be 
hazardous to adopt any such expression and make of it 
a theory of Shaksperian humour, with which facts must 
be compelled to square. Yet, by contrasting the tragic 
with the comic developments of human character in the 
drama of Shakspere, it is possible to discover at least 
one main feature of the comic as it was conceived by the 
poet.* Every embodiment of thought, of passion, or of 
will, which passes considerably beyond the normal stan- 
dard, is tragic, or contains within it potential elements of 
tragedy. All embodiments of thought, passion, and voli- 
tion which fall considerably below the normal standard 
are comic, or contain possible comic elements. Romeo 
is a tragic personage, because in him the passion of love 
has grown supremely great, and under its influence his 
external, material life, the life of limitation is wrecked 
and ruined. Hamlet is a tragic personage, because in 
him thought has developed itself in a way and degree 
which is without suitability or proportion to this finite 
life. Richard III. is tragic, because his will is unsatis- 
fied by ever-renewed victory, and still needs to wreak 
itself absolutely upon the world. But Slender is comic, 
whose love of sweet *Anne Page is so faint a velleity that 
he is compelled to borrow all the suggestions of his pas- 
sion from his uncle : — 

Shallow. Mistress Anne, my cousin loves yoiu 
Slender, Ay, that I do ; as well as I love any woman in Glouces- 

* See Gervinus on the different branches of the drama : Shakespeare 
Commentaries (ed. 18^3), yoL ii, pp. 597—612. 

3 50 Shakspere — His Mind and A rt. 

Shal. He will mainiaan you like a genUewoman. 

Slen, Ay, that I will, come cut and long-tail, under the degree of 

a squire. 
Shal, He will make you a hundred and fifty pounds jointure. 
Anne, Good Master Shallow, let him woo for himself. 

Slender too evidently is not a Romeo ; and when he 
is put in the embarrassing position of being allowed to 
woo for himself, the dialogue proceeds : — 

Anne, Now, Master Slender — 

Slen, Now, good Mistress Anne— 

Anne, What is your will ? 

SU71, [^Brightening up under ike inspiration of a "happy thought,'] My 
will! 'ods heartlings, that's a pretty jest indeed! I ne'er 
made my will yet, I thank heaven ; I am not such a sickly 
creature, I give heaven praise. 

Anne, I mean, Master Slender, what would you with me? 

Slen, Truly, for mine own part, I would little or nothing with you; 
your father and my unele have made motions ; if it be my 
luck, BO ; if not, happy man be his dole \ They can tell you 
how things go better than I can ; you may ask your father. 

Slender's meek resignation to a successful issue 
of his wooing, " If it be my luck, so," brought doubtless 
an arch smile, quidcly smoothed away, to the lips, and 
an amused twinkle to the eyes of sweet Anne Page. The 
painful obligation of making love, which he makes with 
all his heart, and with his largest oaths, ("'ods heart- 
lings !") is submitted to by Slender with the same good 
grace with which FalstaflTs ragged conscripts accept the 
necessity of fighting. Slender, under the conduct of love, 
advances to conquest with a like gallantry to that exhi- 
bited by Mouldy, Shadow, and Feeble, when marshalled' 
for war under the banner of patriotism and honour. Sir 
Andrew Aguecheek is a comic personage, whose being, 
as it trembles upon the border of non-existence, is kept 

The Humour of Shakspere. 351 

from quite vanishing away by the faint reflections it 
catches of Sir Toby's boisterous vitality. Through his 
soft veil of silliness and imbecility (Providence tempering 
the wind to the shorn lamb) glimmers for a moment the 
faint suspicion that he is an ass ; but any want of bril- 
liancy on Sir Andrew's part "is to be set down to acci* 
dental, and not inherent causes : " Methinks some- 
times I have no more wit than a Christian or an ordi- 
nary man has; but I am a great eater of beef; and I 
believe that does harm to my wit" And Dogberry is 
comic, with his laborious inefiS^ciency, delivering to the ^ 
Watch most painful instructions how to do nothing : — 

Dog, You shall comprehend all vagrom men ; you are to bid any 

man stand in the Prince's name. 
Second Watch. How if a' will not stand? 
Dog, Why, then, take no note of him, but let him go, and presently 

call the rest of the watch, and thank God yov are rid of a 


Alike in the tragic and in the comic there is an in- 
congruity to be found. The tragic incongruity arises 
from the disproportion between the world and the soul 
of man ; life is too small to satisfy the soul ; the desires 
of man are infinite, and all possible attainment exists 
under strictest limitation. The comic incongruity is the ] 
reverse of this. It arises from the disproportion between ' 
certain souls of men, and even this very ordinary world 
of ours. When a man's wits are so unjointed and so ill- 
trained that, if put into motion, they forthwith get at 
cross purposes with themselves, while the happy imbecile 
remains supremely unconscious of his incapacity, we are 
in presence of an example of the comic incongruity. 

352 Shakspere — His Mind and Art. 

Hamlet brooding wistfully upon the unknown, until the 
mind B eye is baffled by the darkness — that is an ex- 
ample of grand incongruity, essentially tragia Romeo 
would love infinitely, and be loved ; and there lies his 
body motionless and senseless in the tomb of the 
Gapulets. Cordelia spends all her wealth of piety to 
redeem her father from inhumanity and solitude ; and 
Lear hangs over her body comfortless and desperate. 
We can endure these sights because we know that there 
is no absolute failure for the love and devotion which 
necessarily scorn all such consequences as these, and 
which do not owe allegiance to accident, or time, or 
place. Nevertheless there remains a terrible tragic in- 
congruity. Hamlets baffled movement, his beating to 
and fro in a vast and obscure world which he cannot 
comprehend, has in it something pathetic and something 
sublime. Polonius, with his mastery of court manners, 
and secrets, and policy, with his assmned omniscience 
and real ineptitude, excites a smile which carries with it 
something of contempt His knowledge of the world 
falls so ludicrously short of what true knowledge is. If 

^'etenst'"''^^*^ ^^ ^^^^ ""P ^^ ^^™^ ^^^^^ ^^d **^^ 
pre nsion of office, it becomes more conspicuous. If 

tZTT^^'^.^^ ^- ^^^-. *^- ,et a. disl 
in presen JTf *.? "icapa<nty greater and less, we dilate 

this side of idiocv « T^^^« qtumturm of sense on 

very competent irson K ^r^'- *^^ ""^^ '^®^"' ^ ^^'^ ^ 
.s«.H,. ^^^' ^"* ^'^ ^ i^ » position to apolo- 

'See Hazhtt oa Shallow ^A o-, 
Lecture u.. pp. «. 42 («L J^^* ^Uence. EngliA CJonuc Writen. 

The Humour of Shakspere, 353 

gise for the feeble intellect of Verges, whom he patron- 
ises, as a condescending superior person should. " Good- 
man Verges, sir, speaks a little ojff the matter ; an old 
man, sir, and his wits are not so blunt as, God help, I 
would desire they were ; but, in faith, honest as the skin 
between his brows." 

Persons who are curious about possessing the most 
delicate sentiments might maintain that incapacity of 
heart, or will, or understanding is the appropriate object 
of sympathy and pity rather than of mirth. There is 
indeed an incapacity which is pathetic, — that which 
being conscious of itself, yearns for a higher compre- 
hension of things, for a more understanding heart, as a 
dog dumbly yearns for more full intelligence of his 
master's wishes and thoughts. But the kindly laugh of 
Shakspere at self-complacent folly and ineptitude is a 
much more sincere and wholesome manifestation of 
feeling than the refinements of sympathy dear to the 
heart of the pathos-monger. It is deeply lamentable, 
no doubt, that some of our neighbours are not quali- 
fied to stand as models for an Apollo Belvedere, or a 
Venus of Melos. Still to weep because middle-aged 
gentlemen display at times an ungraceful rotundity of 
person, or because every nose is not straight, would hardly 
improve the condition of the world. These facts are 
recognized and allowed for most wholesomely by an 
honest laugh like that of Cruikshank or of Leech. It is 
well to smile at these grotesque departures from the 
ideal, and reserve our tears for higher uses. The genial 
laughter of Shakspere at human absurdity is free from 
even that amiable cynicism, which gives to the humour . 


354 Shakspere — His Mind and Art 

of Jane Austen a certain piquant flavour ; it is like the 
play of summer lightning, which hurts no Uving crea- 
ture, but surprises, illuminates and charms. 

To keep us constantly sensible of the grotesque which 
surrounds us is indeed to render us a service of no slight 
importance ; for we are too ready to accept imperfection, 
and rapidly to foiget it when once accepted. With 
most of us so habituated has the eye become to the 
visible grotesque in human face and form, costume and 
gesture, that we are unable at first to recognize the pro- 
found fidelity of such matter-of-fact pictures as those of 
Hogarth, or the ideal truth which exists as living centre 
of the inexhaustible, fantastic inventions of Cruikshank. 
We need to have our sense of seeing renewed and 
rendered firesh and childlike before we can perceive in 
every street through which we walk the types of our 
Cruikshank and our Hogarth. And around the life of 
^ach of us there is forever gathering an accretion of the 
grotesque in habit and character to which we quickly 
become insensible. To deliver the ideal man firom this 
requires constant freshness of perception, and vigilance of 
will. Shakspere does not seem to feel that Dogberry 
and Verges are creatures of another breed from himself. 
He stands, it is true, at the opposite pole of humanity ; 
nevertheless, a potential Dogberry element existed even 
in Shakspere. " Common people," as Mr Bagehot has 
happily said, " could be cut out of Shakspere ; " just 
as the robust and prosaic statesman of Westmoreland 
could have been cut out of the great spiritual thinker 
and poet of the Lake district. Therefore, apart from 
the interest of sympathy, we have a personal interest in 

The Humour of Shakspere, 355 

understanding the common features cf the most ordinary 
lives. Our own life is akin to them, and may readily 
lapse into a resemblance curiously exact. But as long 
as we can smile at them we are safe; our sense of 
humour is servant of our passion for perfection ; we 
have no need to grow impatient or indignant with 
these grotesque portions of humanity ; that would un- 
necessarily disturb the balance of our lives, and the 
purity of our perceptions ; we only need to understand 
them, and to smile. 

The humour of Shakspere, however, is much more 
than a laughter-producing power. It is a presence and 
pervading influence throughout his most earnest crea- 
tions. This it is which preserves Shakspere itoxa all 
eager and shrill intensity; this it is which makes his 
emotions voluminous and massive. And of this humour 
there are two principal stages or degrees. First, — given 
a person or an event, a passion or a thought, Shakspere 
examines it on every side, compares it with all other 
objects with which it may naturally be connected, or 
may happen to be associated, puts it in its environment, 
sees the fine and the coarse, the poetic and the prosaic, 
and thus acquires a rich and pregnant feeling for it. So 
abundant and varied is the body of fact which he is 
possessed of that one portion, as it were, balances the 
other, and he is saved from all the violence and extrava- 
gance that originate in the partial views of the idealist. 
Ophelia's death is pathetic ; but the pathos of Shak- 
spere is not the pretty pathos of Beaumont and Fletcher, 
a soft, a sweet and tender sorrow, a gentle investiture of 
melancholy. Shakspere sees the fact from the Queen's 

356 Shakspere — His Mind and A rt. 

point of view, and from Hamlet's ; from the priest's and 
from the grave-digger's points of view. That is to say, he 
sees the fact in the round ; and the pathos of Ophelia's 
death is in the drama as real as it would be, if the 
occurrence became actual. This is the manner in which 
the humour of Shakspere works in the first stage or 

But secondly, when all realities of this world and 
of time have been represented as far as they can 
be in their totality, Shakspere measures these by ab- 
solute standards. He lays the measuring-reed of the 
infinite by the side of what is finite, and he perceives 
how little, how imperfect, the finite is. And he 
smiles at human greatness, while yet he ^js loyal 
homage to what is great ; he smiles at human love, and 
human joy, while yet they are deeply real to him (more 
real to him than they could possibly be to an eager 
intense Shelley) ; it is Prosperous smile upon seeing the 
new happiness of the youthful lovers : — 

So glad of this as they I cannot be, 
Who are surprised with all ; but my rejoicing 
In nothing can be more. 

And he smiles at human sorrow, while he enters into the 
deep anguish of the soul ; he knows that for it too there 
IS an end and a quietus. The greatest poetic seers are 
not angry, or eager, or hortatory, or objurgatory, or shrill. 
Homer and Shakspere are "too great for contest; . . . men 
to whose unofiFended, uncondemning sight, the whole of 
human nature reveals itself in a pathetic weakness, with 
which they will not strive, or in moumftil and transitory 

The Humour of Shakspere. 357 

strength, which they dare not praise.'** Shakspere 
sees with purged eyes ; and he loves and pities men. 
But while this view^of things from an extra-mundane 
point of vision is to be taken account of in any study of 
Shakspere's mind and art, it must be insisted upon 
that the facts are at the same time thoroughly appre- 
hended, studied, and felt from the various points which 
are strictly finite and mundane. 

But it is not alone Shakspere's humour, and the 
laughter of Shakspere which are significant. There is 
something also to be discovered from the history of his 
laughter. Every man must be aware that in his own 
case his laughter has had a history, and that if the 
history were faithfully made out a good deal would 
necessarily be ascertained respecting the development 
of his whole moral nature. Now we have documents 
which contain the history of Shakspere's laughter during 
a period of upwards of twenty years. Surely from these 
something about the growth of his intellect and char- 
acter must be ascertainable. 

In Shakspere's life as artist we may distinguish four 
periods. First of these is the tentative period, the years 
of experiments. The dramatist has not as yet got a 
sure and firm grasp upon life. He is somewhat deficient 
in the material of deep thought and of deep emotion. 
Both of these originate through a vital connection be- 
tween the soul and the graver realities of life, and such 
a connection is as yet only establishing itself for Shak- 
spere. A man who is not as yet under the controlling 

♦ Afternoon LectaroB. 1869. " The Mystery of Life and its Arte," 
by John Buskin, p. 109. 

358 Shakspere — His Mind and Art 

influence of any of the graver realities of human Ufe, and 
who at the same time possesses extraordinary mental 
gifts, will take pleasure in the mere play of his wits apart 
from the special occasion or object which sets his wits to 
work. If he have high spirits, he will enjoy fun pure 
and simple, comical surprises and grotesque incidents. If 
he have a turn for satire, the objects of his gay, satirical 
attack will be superficial oddities, follies, and affectations 
of the world. It is during this period of clever "young- 
manishness ^ (Mr Fumivall's descriptive word) that Shak- 
spere's laughter first becomes audible to us. " The Two 
Gentlemen of Verona," "Love's Labour's Lost," and "The 
Comedy of Errors" sufficiently represent this stage in 
the history of the growth of Shakspere's mind. In 
" Love's Labour's Lost," as was attempted to be shown in 
a former chapter, there is a serious underlying intention. 
It concerns itself, as the work of a young man naturally 
may, with the subject of self-culture, and it gaily main- 
tains the thesis that in our schemes of self-improvement 
the first requisite is this — that we take accoimt of aU the 
facts of human nature, including its appetites, iustincts, 
and passions, and that any attempt to idealize these away 
will surely end in failure and egregious folly. Such is 
the underlying serious intention of the play. But by the 
way the poet takes an opportunity to have his laugh and 
skit at the fashionable affectations of the time. 

Nearly at this same period Spenser in ' The Tears of 
the Muses ' was lamenting the condition of the English 
comic drama ; the stage had been made the means of 
cruel personal and party satire ; " seasoned wit,'* and 
"goodly pleasure" had disappeared from comedy; in 

The Humour of Shakspere, 359 

place of these, " scoffing scurrility,* and " scornful folly " 
had possessed the stage, 

Rolling is rhymes of shameleaB ribaldry, 
Without regard of due deconmi kept. 

Whether Spenser's words in this passage, "Our 
pleasant Willy, ah ! is dead of late," refer to some 
temporary silence of Shakspere, or have no such refer- 
ence, it is at least worthy of note that Shakspere 
abstained altogether from this abusing of the stage 
to unworthy purposes, and found the objects of his 
mirth in fashions and follies of the time, not in the 
misfortunes or weaknesses of individuals.* Shakspere 
was probably not without enemies. He was successful, 
and that secured for him the hatred of men who failed. 
Greene, upon his death-bed, assailed him with bitter and 
insolent words, and wrote as if his feeling would natur- 
ally be shared by Peele, by Lodge or Nash, and by Mar- 
lowe. Yet we do not anywhere find the name of 
Shakspere, as we find the names of Jonson and Dekkar, 
and other contemporary dramatists, occupying a place in 
the record of the quarrels of authors. The light and 
airy satire of Love's Labour's Lost, with its grave, under- 
lying intention, is thus characteristic of the youthful 
Shakspere, both in a positive way, and also negatively, 
because it contains no particle of the scurrility and 
ribaldry of which Spenser made complaint. The pleasure 
which Shakspere derives from the quick encounter of 
wits, from the bandying of a jest to and fro in the air 

* The identity of Holofemes with Florio of dictionaiy-making cele- 
brity must be supported by better evidence before we regard it as other 
than an ingenious conjecture. 

360 Shakspere — His Mind and Art 

until at last it falls, in elaborate play upon words, — ^this 
was in part a pleasure of the period, and in part it is 
significant of the fact that Shakspere, in his years of 
clever " youngmanishness," enjoyed the mere exercise 
of a nimble brain. "Now by the salt wave of the 
Mediterranean, a sweet touch ; a quick venew of wit ; 
snip snap, quick and home ; it rejoiceth my intellect." 

In this tentative period the comic and the serious, 
tender or sentimental elements of the drama exist side 
by side, and serve as a kind of criticism each upon the 
other ; the lover serves to convict the clown of insensi- 
bility to the higher facts of life, and the clown convicts 
the lover of the blindness or extravagance of passion. 
But though the comic and the tender or serious elements 
exist side by side, and reflect certain lights one upon 
the other, they do not as yet interpenetrate. One set 
of personages is reserved for the grave or tender business 
of the drama ; and a diflferent set of personages is told 
oflf for the comic business. In " The Two Gentlemen of 
Verona " the comedy is entrusted to a pair of clowns. 
Speed and Launce : Speed is the professed wit ; after 
serving his turn he finally disappears from the fully 
developed drama of Shakspere. Launce, on the other 
hand, is a humourist, who, not without a sufiiciency of 
clownish sense, blunders into mirthful matter of a 
more vital, more pregnant kind, than the nimble 
tongue of Speed can command. Launce, attended 
by his dog Crab, heads the procession of Shakspere's 
humourous characters ; there march behind him a long 
train, including manifold varieties of the mirth-provoking 
tribe, — ^from the naive, comic Touchstone, with his 

The Humour of Shakspere. 361 

mingled instinct of sense and nonsense, to Hotspur and 
Mercutio, in whom overflowing energy or an exquisite 
zest in living produces a humourous extravagance, and 
again from these to Falstaff, in whom humour has 
acquired clear consciousness of itself and become free ; 
and yet again from Falstaff to the pathetic, tragically 
earnest figure of the Fool in " Lear."* 

In "A Midsummer Night's Dream" Shakspere's 
humour has enriched itself by coalescing with the fancy. 
The comic is here no longer purely comic ; it is a mingled 
web, shot through with the beautiful. Bottom and 
Titania meet; and this meeting of Bottom and Titania 
may be taken, by any lover of symbolism that pleases, 
as an undesigned sjrmbol of the fact that the poet's facul- 
ties, which at first had stood apart, and were accustomed 
to go to work each faculty by itself, were now .approach- 
ing one another. At a subsequent period, when the 
shocks of life had roused to highest energy every nerve, 
every fibre of the genius of Shakspere, the actions of all 
faculties were fused together in one. Bottom is incom- 
parably a finer efflorescence of the absurd than any pre- 
ceding character of Shakspere's invention. How lean 
and impoverished his fellows, the Athenian craftsmen, 
confess themselves in presence of the many-sided genius 
of Nick Bottom ! Rarely is a great artist appreciated 
in the degree that Bottom is — " He hath simply the 
best wit of any handicraft man in Athens ; yea, and the 
best person too ; and he is a very paramour for a sweet 

* See the hierarchy of comic characters as made out by Dr. Edvard 
Vehse in "Shakespeare als Protestant, Politiker, Psycholog and 
Dichter," voL ii. pp. 5, 6. 

362 Shakspcre — His Mind and A rt 

voice." With what a magnificent multiplicity of gifts 
he is endowed ! How vast has the bounty of nature 
been to him I The self-doubtful Snug hesitates to 
undertake the moderate duties assigned to the lion. 
Bottom, though his chief humour is for a tyrant, knows 
not how to suppress his almost equal gift for playing a 
lady. How, without a pang, can he deprive the world, 
through devotion to " the Ercles vein," of the monstrous 
little voice in which he can utter " Thisne, Thisne — ^Ah 
Pyramus, my lover dear! thy Thisby dear and lady 
dear !" And as to the part assigned to the too bashful 
Snug, — that Bottom can undertake in either of two 
styles, or in both, so that the Duke must say, " Let him 
roar again, let him roar again," or the ladies may be 
soothed by the " aggravated voice " in which he will 
" roar you as gently as any sucking dove." But jfrom 
these dreams of universal ambition he is recalled by 
Quince to his most appropriate impersonation: — "You can 
play no part but Pyramus, for Pyramus is a sweet-faced 
man ; a proper man as one shall see in a summer s day ; 
a most lovely, gentleman-like man ; therefore you must 
needs play Pyramus." 

During the second period of the development of 
Shakspere's genius, he was gaining a sure grasp* of the 
positive facts of life. This is the period of the histories. 
At first, impressed perhaps by a sense of the' dignity of 
the historical drama, Shakspere held his humour aloof. 
In Richard II. there is no himiourous scene. Had 
Shakspere written the play a few years later, we may 
be certain that the gardener and servants {Act iii., Sc, 
4) would not have uttered stately speeches in verse. 

The Humour of Shakspere, 363 

but would have spoken homely prose, and that humour 
would have mingled with the pathos of this scene. The 
same remark maybe made with reference to the subsequent 
scene, in which his groom visits the dethroned king in 
the Tower. But as yet the pathetic, although with 
Shakspere approximating to the humourous, looked at 
it somewhat askance and suspiciously. In Bichard III. 
there is a certain grim humour, humour of the diabolic 
kind, which is part of the daemonic personality of 
Richard, and has for its central element a fierce con- 
tempt of humanity. Bichard kneels before Anne, and 
she oflfers at his breast with the sword ; but the sword 
falls - Anne is overpowered by the malign strength of 
Richard's volition, and presently his ring is on her 
finger. The sense of power, which stands with Bichard 
in the place of joy and beauty and virtue, is flattered by 
his achievement ; his triumph over Anne is an insult to 
womanhood. That Bichard should be supreme, the 
order of things must be inverted, the moral facts of the 
world must be reversed, and a new empire of the diabolic 
and the grotesque must be accepted as the normal con- 
dition of things. It is as if we stood beneath some 
monument before which men were bowing, and when we 
looked ' up we beheld the mocking figure of the Fiend 
upon the pedestal. 

Except • grim irony of this description, Bichard 
III., like Bichard II., contains no comic element. In 
the Jack Cade scenes of Henry VI., the satire efiective, 
if at times rude, which Shakspere directs against 
the weaker side of popular political movements, 
appears in its frankest and least subtile form. But 

3 64 Shakspere — His Mind and A rt. 

it is in the play of King John that the humourous 
element first breaks forth energetically and in reckless 
defiance of the dignity of history. Something genuine, 
hearty, spontaneous, was especially needed in this play. 
A spurious appearance of majesty, with inward rotten- 
ness, the selfish policy of kings, the craft of priests, the 
barter of hearts and of lives, all these are exposed and 
explained by the one honest thing in the play, — the 
character of Faulconbridge, the bounding courage in his 
veins, his loyalty to the memory of the father who had 
given him a dishonourable birth, his dauntless, patriotic 
enthusiasm in presence of his country's disaster, and, 
not inconsistent with this, his humourous assimiption of 
a baseness and selfishness of which he was incapable.* 

The two parts of King Henry IV. exhibit a further 
advance of the comic element in connection with the 
historical drama. Already the humour of Shakspere 
has marvellously deepened and enriched itself since the 
period of Love's Labour's Lost and The Comedy of 
Errors. Sir John Falstaflf is a conception hardly less 
complex, hardly less wonderful than that of Hamlet. 
He is forever creating a fresh series of impressions, which 
seems at first inconsistent with the preceding series, and 
which yet after awhile somehow conciliates itself in 
an obscure and vital way with all that had gone 
before. " He is a man at once young and old, enter- 
prising and fat, a dupe and a wit, hannless and wicked, 

* Notice how the Bastard's ntterance in sonnet -form, act iL so. 2, 


« Drawn in the flattering table of her eye," 
serves to expose the trae character of the Dauphin's elaborately com- 
plimentary wooing of Blanch and her dowry. 

The Humour of Shakspere. 365 

weak in principle and resolute by constitution, cowardly 
in appearance and brave in reality, a knave without 
malice, a liar without deceit, and a knight, a gentleman, 
and a soldier, without either dignity, decency, or 
honour. This is a character which, though it may be 
decompounded, could not, I believe, have been formed, 
nor the ingredients of it duly mingled, upon any receipt 
whatever ; it required the hand of Shakspere himself to 
give to every particular part a relish of the whole, and of the 
whole to every particular part ; — alike the same incongru- 
ous, identical Falstaff, whether to the grave Chief Justice 
he vainly talks of his youth and offers to caper for a 
thousand, or cries to Mrs Doll, " I am old ! I am old 1 " 
although she is seated on his lap, and he is courting her 
for busses." * 

Sir John, although, as he truly declares, "not only 
witty in himself, but the cause that wit is in other men," 
is by no means a purely comic character. Were he no 
more than this, the stem words of Henry to his old com- 
panion would be unendurable. The central principle of 
Falstaff's method of living is that the facts and laws of 
the world may be evaded or set at defiance, if only the 
resources of inexhaustible wit be called upon to supply 
by brilliant ingenuity whatever deficiencies may be found 
in character and conduct, f Therefore Shakspere con- 

* *' An Essay on the Dramatic Character of Sir John Falstaff," by 
Maurice Morgann, Esq., pp. 150-51 (Ed. 1825). No piece of 18th cen- 
tury criticism of Shakspere is more intelligently and warmly appreciative 
than is this delightful essay. 

t '* Falstaff 's innerste Natur geht vielmehr anf die Auflosung alles 
Ernstes des Lebens, aller Lddenschaft, aller Affecte, welche den Men- 
Bchen unter ihre Herrschaft bringen, ihn beschranken, und ihm die 
voile Freiheit des Gemtiths rauben. Der Ernst des Lebena fordert eine 


366 Shakspere — His Mind and Art. 

demned Falstaflf inexorably. Falstaflf the invulnerable 
endeavours, as was said in a preceding chapter, to corus- 
cate away the realities of life. But the fact presses in 
upon Falstaff at the last relentlessly. Shakspere's ear- 
nestness here is at one with his mirth ; there is a certain 
sternness underlying his laughter. Mere detection of his 
stupendous unveracities leaves Sir John just where he 
was before ; the success of his lie is of less importance to 
him than is the glory of its invention. " There is no 
such thing as totaUy demolishing Falstaff; he has so 
much of the invulnerable in his frame that no ridicule 
can destroy him ; he is safe even in defeat, and seems to 
rise, like another Antseus, with recruited vigour from 
every fall." * It is not ridicule, but some stem invasion 
of fact — ^not to be escaped from — ^which can subdue Fal- 
staff. Perhaps Nym and Pistol got at the truth of the 
matter when they discoursed of Sir John's unexpected 
collapse : — 

Nym, The king hath run bad humours on the knight ; thaf s the 

even of it. 
Fi^oL Nym, thou hast spoke the right ; 

His heart is fracted and corroborate. 

In the relation by Mrs Quickly of the death of Falstaff 
pathos and humour have run together and become one. 

Vertiefung in den Inhalt dea Lebens ; der Ernst concentrirt den Men- 
schen auf einen bestimmten and daher nothwendig beschrankten Inhalt 
nnd Zweck, der sein Wohl und Wehe ausmacht. . . . Falstaff ist daher 
der natUrliche Feind aller idealen Interressen and LeidenschafteOy 
denn sie raaben zagleich dem Gemtlth die Behaglichkeit and beein- 
triichtigen natUrlich eben, weil sie den Menschen conceniriren, die an> 
beschrankte Freiheit der Seele. "—Dr H. Th. Rotscher, "Shakespeare in 
seinen hochsten Charaktergebilden," p. 70. 

* Maurice Morgann, " Essay on the Character of Sir John Falstaff,*' 
p. IdO. 

The Humour of Shakspere, 367 

" A' made a finer end and went away an it had been 
any christom child ; a' parted even just between twelve 
and one, even at the turning o' the tide : for after I saw 
him fumble with the sheets, and play with flowers and 
smile upon his fingers' ends, I knew there was but one 
way ; for his nose was as sharp as a pen, and a' babbled 
of green fields." * Here the smile and the tear rise at 
the same instant. Nevertheless, the union of pathos 
with humour as yet extends only to an incident ; no 
entire pathetic-humourous character has been created like 
that of Lear's Fool. 

Pathetically, however, the fat knight disappears, and 
disappears for ever. The Falstaff of The Merry Wives 
of Windsor is another person than the Sir John who is 
" in Arthur's bosom, if ever man went to Arthur's bosom." 
The epilogue to the second part of Henry IV. (whether 
it was written by Shakspere or not remains doubtful) had 
promised that " our humble author will continue the 
story with Sir John in it." But oiu: humble author 
decided (with a finer judgment than Cervantes in the 
case of his hero) that the public was not to be indulged 
in laughter for laughter s sake at the expense of his play. 
The tone of the entire play of Henry V. would have been 
altered if FalstafF had been allowed to appear in it. 
During the monarchy of a Henry IV. no glorious en- 
thusiasm animated England. It was distracted by civil 
contention. Mouldy, Shallow, and Feeble were among 
the champions of the royal cause. Patriotism and the 

* Br Newman incidentally (by way of illustration) discnsses the 
claim of Theobald's emendation to stand in the text. Grammar of 
Assent, pp. 264-270. 

368 Shakspere — His Mind and Art, 

national pride of England could not under the careftil 
policy of a Bolingbroke burst forth as one ascending and 
universal flame. At such a time our imagination can 
loiter among the humours and frolics of a tavern. When 
the nation was divided into various parties, when no 
interest was absorbing and supreme, Sir John might well 
appear upon his throne at Easteheap, monarch by virtue 
of his wit, and form with his company of followers a state 
within the state. But with the coronation of Heniy V. 
opens a new period, when a higher interest animates his- 
tory, when the national life was unified, and the glorious 
struggle with France began. At such a time private and 
secondary interests must cease ; the magnificent swing, 
the impulse and advance of the life of England occupy 
our whole imagination. It goes hard with us to part 
from Falstaflf, but, like the king, part from him we must; 
we cannot be. encumbered with that tun of flesh; Agin- 
court is not the battle-field for splendid mendacity. Fal- 
stafl", whose principle of life is an attempt to coruscate 
away the facts of life, and who was so potent during the 
Prince's minority, would now necessarily appear trivial. 
There is no place for Falstaflf any longer on earth; he must 
needs find refuge " in Arthur's bosom." * 

At the close of this second period in the develop- 
ment of Shakspere's mind and art the brightest and 
loveliest comedies were written. In these years were 
created Rosalind and Viola, Jacques and Malvolio, Beat- 
rice and Benedict. The essential characteristic of the 
close of the second period is this : Shakspere had quite 

* This is weU brought out by Rotscher, "Shakespeare in aeinen 
hochsten Oharaktergebilden,'' p. 77* 

The Humour of Shakspere. 369 

left behind him his spirit of clever "youngmanishness ; " he 
had come into possession of himself and of his own powers, 
and he had entered into vital union with the real life of 
the world ; but as yet (concerned, as he was, a good deal 
about material success) he had not started upon any pro- 
found enquiry concerning the deeper and more terrible 
problems of existence. He had not begun to prosecute 
his prolonged investigation of evil. It was precisely the 
period at which Shakspere's mirth was freest for disport. 
He had put aside the massive material supplied by his- 
tory. He had not as yet fallen profoundly under the 
influence of those obscure and passionate interests of life 
which lie about the roots of tragedy. If ever there was 
a time when Shakspere's laughter would be clear, and 
musical, and free, it was this time. Comedy, which had 
been involved with the grave matter of history, now dis- 
engages itself, and appears as something widely different 
from the tentative comedy of Shakspere's earliest period. 
If we compare Touchstone with Speed, Rosalind with 
Rosaline, the scenes of mistaken identity in Twelfth Night 
with those of the Comedy of Errors, we shall have a 
measure of the distance traversed. 

From among the plays so bright, so tender, so gracious 
of these years, one play — ^The Merry Wives of Windsor 
— stands apart with an unique character. It is essen 
tially prosaic, and is indeed the only play of Shakspere 
written almost wholly in prose. There is no reason 
why we should refuse to accept the tradition put upon 
record by Dennis and by Rowe that The Merry Wives 
was written by Shakspere upon compulsion, by order 
of Elizabeth, who in her lust for gross mirth, required 

2 A 

370 Shakspere — His Mind and Art. 

the poet to expose his Falstaff to ridicule, by exhibiting 
him, the most delightful of egoists, in love. Shakspere 
yielded to the necessity. His Merchant of Venice might 
pass well enough with the miscellaneous gathering of 
upper, middle, and lower classes which crowded to a 
public theatre. Now he had to cater specially for gentle- 
folk and for a queen. And knowing how to please every 
class of spectators, he knew how to hit off the taste of 
'^the barbarian." The Merry Wives of Windsor is a 
play written expressly for the barbarian aristocrats with 
their hatred of ideas, their insensibility to beauty, their 
hard efficient manners, and their demand for impropriety. 
The good folk of London liked to see a prince or a duke, 
and they liked to see him made gracious and generous. 
These royal and noble persons at Windsor wished to 
see the interior life of country gentlemen of the middle- 
class, and to see the women of the middle-class with their 
excellent bourgeois morals, and rough, jocose ways. The 
comedy of hearing a French physician and a Welsh par- 
son speak broken English was appreciated by these spec- 
tators who uttered their mother-tongue with exemplary 
accent. Shakspere did not make a grievance of his task. 
He threw himself into it with spirit, and despatched 
his work quickly,_in fourteen days, if we accept the 
Wition. But Falstaff he was not prepared to recaU 
from heaven or from helL He dressed up a fat rogue, 
brought forward for the occasion from the back premises 

lr«n!r^*! "^^^ation, in Falstaffs clothes; he allowed 
persons and -nlo- ... 

as they pi *^®^ *° jumble themselves up 

laborious ni^f ' \^ "^^ ^* impossible for the most 
ei^enth century critic to patch on The Meny 

The Humour of Shakspere. 371 

Wives to Henry IV. But the Queen and her Court 
laughed as the buck-basket was emptied into the ditch, 
no more suspecting that its gross lading was not the in- 
comparable jester of Eastcheap, than Ford suspected the 
woman with a great beard to be other than the veritable 
Dame Pratt* 

The third period of Shakspere's development is that 
which contains the great tragedies. Shakspere's laugh - 

* With respect to the difficulty of identifying the characters of Mrs 
Quickly, Pistol, Bardolph and Sir John with the persons bearing the 
same names in the historiciil plays, see Mr Halliweirs introduction to 
"The First Sketch of the Merry Wives of Windsor" (Shakespeare 
Society 1842). My impression of thi? play is confirmed by that of compe- 
tent critics. Mr Hudson writes " That the free impulse of Shakespeare's 
genius, without suggestion or inducement from any other source, could 
have led him to put Falstaff through such a series of uncharacteristic 
delusions and collapses, is to me well nigh incredible." " Shakespeare, 
his life, &C.," vol. I. p. 298. See also Hazlitt's criticism of the play. 
Hartley Coleridge writes : — " That Queen Bess should have desired to 
see Falstaff making love proves her to have been, as she was, a gross- 
minded old baggage. Shakspeare has evaded the difficulty with great 
skill. He knew that Falstaff could not be in love ; and has mixed but 
a little, a very little 'prwni'm with his fortune-hunting courtship. But 
the Falstaff of the Merry Wives, is not the Falstaff of Henry the 
Fourth. It is a big-bellied impostor, assuming his name and style, or 
at best it is Falstaff in dotage. The Mrs Quickly of Windsor is not 
mine Hostess of the Boar's Head; but she is a very pleasant, busy, good- 
natured, unprincipled old woman, whom it is impossible to be angry 
with. Shallow should not have left his seat in Qloucestershire and his 
magisterial duties. Ford's jealousy is of too serious a complexion for 
the rest of the play. The merry wives are a delightful par. Methinks 
I see them, with their comely, middle-aged visages, their dainty white 
ruffs and toys, their half witch-like conic hats, their full farthingales, 
their neat though not overslim waists, their housewifely keys, their 
girdles, their sly laughing looks, their apple-red cheeks^ their brows the 
lines whereon look more like the work of mirth than years. And sweet 
Anne Page — she is a pretty little creature whom one would like to take 
on one's knee." Essays and Marginalia, vol. ii. pp. 133-34. It is note- 
worthy that Maurice Morgann in his Essay on Fidstaff avoids the Merry 


372 Shakspere — His Mind and A rt, 

ter now is more than pathetic, — ^though pathetic it 
is as it had never been before, — ^it is also tragic and 
terrible. The gaze of the poet during this period was 
concentrated upon the evil in man's heart, the deepest 
mystery of being, and upon the good which is at odds in 
the world with this evil. He studies human life now 
with reference to its most solemn issues. Of unalloyed 
mirth, of bright and tender fancy we can now look for 
none. In Shakspere's earliest tragedy, Mercutio dis- 
appears before half the play is over; and the gloom 
instantly deepens upon the withdrawal of his gleaming 
vivacity. The Mercutio in Shakspere's brain also 
disappears when the tragedy of life becomes with him 
very grave and real. In Hamlet, the humourous figures 
of the court are all a little contemptible, and odioua 
Polonius, Osric, Bosencrantz and Guildenstem serve as 
irritants to stimulate Hamlet's dis^tisfaction with living 
and impatience of the world. The grave-diggers have a 
grim grotesqueness, and might almost appear as figures 
in the Danaea macdbrea of the middle ages; each, a 
humorous jester in the court of Death ; hail-fellow-well- 
met with chap-fallen skulls ; a go-between for my lady 
Worm and him she desires ; a connoisseur in corpses ; a 
chronicler of dead men's bones. 

The scene of the knocking in Macbeth has similarly a 
grave significance.* To the criticism of De Quincey, 

* Coleridge rejected the porter's soliloquy with the exception of two 
lines. Mr Fleay rejects it altogether. See his paper on Macbeth in 
the Transactions of the "New Shakspere Society.** On the other 
side, see (in the same Transactions) Mr Hales " On the Porter in 
Macbeth." Mr Hales endeavours to establish the genuineness of the 
speech on the grounds : — 

The Humour of Shakspere. 373 

nothing from the SBsthetic point of view, remains to be 
added. "The retiring of the human heart, and the 
entrance of the fiendish heart was to be expressed and 
made sensible. Another world has stept in ; and the 
murderers are taken out of the region of human things, 
human purposes, human desires. They are transfigured. 
Lady Macbeth is "unsexed;" Macbeth has forgot that 
he was bom of woman ; both are conformed to the image 
of devils ; and the world of devils is suddenly revealed. 
But how shall this be conveyed and made palpable ? In 
order that a new world may step in, this world must for 
a time disappear. The murderers, and the murder must 
be insulated— cut off by an immeasurable gulf firom the 
ordinary tide and succession of human affairs ; we must 
be made sensible that the world of ordinary life is sud- 
denly arrested, — ^laid asleep, — ^tranced, — racked into a 
dread armistice ; time must be annihilated, relation to 
things without abolished ; and all must pass self-with- 
drawn into a deep syncope and suspension of earthly 
passion. Hence it is, that when the deed is done, when the 
work of darkness is perfect, then the world of darkness 
passes away like a pageantry in die clouds ; the knocking 
at the gate is heard ; and it makes known audibly that the 
reaction has commenced ; the human has made its reflux 
upon the fiendish ; the pulses of life are be^nning to 
beat again ; and the re-establishment of the goings on of 

(i. ) That a porter's speech is «» int^ral part of the play. 

(ii.) That it is necessary as a relief to the snrrounding horror. 
(iiL) That it is necessary according to the law of contrast else- 
where obeyed, 
(iv.) That the speech we have is dramatically relevant. 

(y.) That its style and language are Shaksperian. 

374 Shakspere — His Mind and A rt 

the world in which we live, first makes us profoundly 
sensible of the awful parenthesis that had suspended 

In Lear, where all else of Shakspere's art attains 
a deeper and more intense life than in any other of 
his poems, the interpenetration of the humourous, the 
pathetic, and the tragic, has become complete. When 
Lear, assisted by the most learned justicer, poor Tom, and 
his yoke-fellow in equity, the Fool, arraigns a joint-stool 
as Goneril, we do not smile, we hardly as yet can pity; we 
gaze on with suspended intellect as if the entire spectacle 
were some mysterious, grotesque hieroglyph, the secret of 
which we were about to discover. In the smallest atom 
of the speeches of Lear, of Edgar, of the Fool, and equally 
in the entire drama, tragic earnestness is seen arrayed in 
fantastic motley. It is as if the writer were looking 
down at human life firom a point of view without and 
above life, from which the whole appears as some mon- 
strous farce-tragedy, in which all that is terrible is ludic- 
rous, and aU that is ludicrous, terrible. 

If, during this tragic period, Shakspere retain any 

tendency to observe the comedy of incident in life, 

the ijicident will be of another sort firom that which 

moves our laughter in The Comedy of Errors. It 

will rather be a firagment of titanic burlesque, 

overhung by some impending horror, and inspired 

• I>e Qaincey's Works, (Ist ed.) vol. xiv. p. 197. Bodenstedt 
(quoted by Fnmess : Variomm Shakespeare: Macbeth, p. 110) writes 
of the Porter, " After aU, his nnooath oomicality has a tragio back- 
ground; he never dreams, while imagining himself a porter of hell, how 
near he oomes to the tmth. What are all these petty sinners who go 
the primrose way to the everlasting bonfire, compared with those great 
criminals whose gates he goarda ?" 

The Humour of Shakspere. 375 

by a deep "idea of world-destruction/'* Such a 
stapendous piece of burlesque, inspired by an idea of 
world-destruction, Shakspere found in Plutarch's life of 
Antony, and having allowed it to dilate and take colour in 
his own imagination, he transferred it to his play. Aboard 
Pompey's galley the masters of the earth hold hands and 
dance the Egyptian bacchanals, joining in the volleying 
chorus, " Cup us, till the world goes round ! " ; and 
Menas whispers his leader to bid him cut the cable, and 
fall to the throats of the triumvirs. A great painting by 
Orcagna shows a terrible figure. Death, armed with the 
scythe, and sweeping down through bright air, upon the 
glad and careless garden-party of noble and beautiful 
persons, — ^men and women who lean to one another, and 
caress their dogs and hawks, while they listen to the 
music of stringed instruments. In Shakspere's scene of 
revelry, death seems to be more secretly, more intimately 
present, seems more surely to dominate life ; though it 
passes by, it passes, as it were, with an ironical smile at 
the security of the possessors of this world, and at the 
noisy insubstantial triumph of life, permitted for a while. 
If now Shakspere be a satirist, his satire will not 
resemble the bright, airy mockery of fashions and affecta- 
tions which made the early Love's Labour's Lost eflfective 
with youthful aristocratic patrons of the theatre. How 
great a distance has been measured since then ! Shak- 
spere's satire will now be the deep or fierce complaint 
against the world, of a soul in its agony — ^the firenzied 
accusations of nature and of man uttered by Lear, or the 
Juvenalian satire of the Athenian misanthrope. 
* A word applied by Heine to Aristophanes — WtUntrnMldu'ngMtit. 

3 76 Shakspere — His Mind and Art. 

There is in every man of passionate genius a revolt 
against the insufficiency of the world, a revolt against iJie 
base facts of lifel Most of us surrender to the worlds 
sign a treaty of alliance with engagements of mutual 
service, and end by acquiescence. It is remarkable that 
Shakspere's revolt against the world increased in energy 
and comprehensiveness, as he advanced in years. When 
he was thirty or five and thirty years of age, he found 
less in the world to arouse his indignation, than when he 
was forty. Neither by force or fraud, by bribe or menace, 
did the world subdue or gain over Shakspere. If he 
attained serenity, it was by some procedure other than 
that of selfish or indolent acquiescenca No mood of 
egoistic laissez favrt succeeds Shakspere's mood of 

Serenity Shakspere did attain. Once again before the 
end, his mirth is bright and tender. When in some 
Warwickshire field, one breezy morning, as the daffodil 
began to i)eer, the poet conceived his Autolycus, there 
might seem to be almost a return of the light-heartedness 
of youth. But the same play that contains Autolycus con- 
tains the grave and noble figure of Hermione. From its 
elevation and cahn Shakspere's heart can pass into the 
simple merriment of rustic festivity ; he can enjoy the 
open-mouthed happiness of country clowns; he is de- 
lighted by the gay defiance of order and honesty which 
Autolycus, most charming of rogues, professes; he is 
touched and eiquisitely thrilled by the pure and vivid 
joy of Perdita among her flowers. Now that Shakspere 
^^seholder he enters most into the pleasures 

The Humour of Shakspere, 2>77 

of truantship.* And in like manner it is when he is 
most grave that he can smile most brightly^ most tender- 
ly. But one kind of laughter Shakspere at this time 
found detestable — ^the laughter of an Antonio or a Sebas- 
tian, barren and forced laughter of narrow heads, and 
irreverent and loveless hearts. The sly knavery of 
Autolycus has nothing in it that is criminal ; heaven is 
his accomplice. " If I had a mind to be honest, I see 
Fortime would not suflfer me ; she drops booties in my 
mouth." Whether Schiller's Franz Moor made many 
robbers may be doubtful. But certainly no person of 
spirit can read A Winter's Tale without feeling a dis- 
honest and delightful itching of the fingers, an interest 
not wholly virtuous in his neighbour's bleaching-green, 
and an impatience to be off for once on an adventure of 
roving and rogueing with Autolycus. 

* Readers of Mr Browning's '< Fifine at the Fair '' will associate an 
esoteric sense with the word '^ householder/' and will remember his 
admirably bright and vigorous study of the causes of our lore of truant- 
ship in the opening sections of that poem. 


shakspere's last plays. 

In these chapters we have been chiefly concerned with 
observing the growth of Shakspere's mind and art The 
essential prerequisite of such a study was a scheme of 
the chronological succession of Shakspere's plays which 
could be accepted as trustworthy in the main. But for 
such a study it is fortunately not necessary that we 
should in every case determine how play followed play. 
It would for many reasons be important and interesting 
to ascertain the date at which each work of Shakspere 
came into existence; but as a fact this has not been 
accomplished, and we may safely say that it never will 
be accomplished. To understand in all essentials the 
history of Shakspere's character and Shakspere's art we 
have obtained what is absolutely necessary, whlsiv we 
have made out the succession, not of Shakspere's |Jays, 
but of Shakspere's chief visions of truth, his most intense 
moments of inspiration, his greater discoveries about 
human life. 

In the history of every artist, and of every man, there 
are periods of quickened existence, when spiritual 
discovery is made without an effort, and attainment 
becomes easy and almost involuntary. One does not 
seek for truth, but rather is sought for by truth, 
and found ; one does not construct beautiful imaginings. 

Skaksperis Last Plays. 379 

but beauty itself haunts, and startles, and waylays. 
These periods may be arrived at through prolonged moral 
conflict and victory, or through some sudden revelation 
of joy, or through supreme anguish and renouncement. 
Such epochs of spiritual discovery lie behind the art of 
the artist, it may be immediately, or it may be remotely, 
and out of these it springs. Among many art-products 
some single work will perhaps give to an unique 
experience its highest, its absolute expression; and 
this, whether produced at the moment or ten years 
afterwards, properly belongs to that crisis of which 
it is the outcome. Lyrical writers usually utter them- 
selves nearly at the moment when they are smitten 
with the sharp stroke of joy, or of pain. Dramatic 
writers, for the purity and fidelity of whose work a cer- 
tain independence upon their individuality is needed, 
utter themselves more often not upon the moment, but 
after an interval, during which self-possession and self- 
mastery have been attained. 

Now, although w^e are not in all cases able to say 
confidently this play of Shakspere preceded that, 
the order of his writings has been suflSciently de- 
termined to enable us to trace with confidence the 
succession of Shakspere's epochs of spiritual alteration 
and development Whether Macbeth preceded Othello, 
or OtheUo Macbeth, need not greatly concern us; the 
question is one chiefly of literary curiosity ; we do not 
understand Shakspere much the better when the ques- 
tion has been settled, than we did while the answer 
remained doubtful Both plays belong, and they belong 
in a equal degree, to one and the same period in the 

3 8o Shakspere — His Mind and A rt. 

history of Shakspere's mind and art, to which period we 
can unquestionably assign its place. In the present 
chapter Timon of Athens is placed near The Tempest, 
although it is possible that a play, or two, or three plays 
in the precise chronological order may lie between them. 
They are placed near one another, because in Timon of 
Athens Shakspere's mood of indignation with the world 
attains its highest, its ideal expression, while in The 
Tempest we find the ideal expression of the temper of 
mind which succeeded his mood of indignation, — the 
pathetic yet august serenity of Shakspere's final period. 
For the purposes of such a study as this we may look 
upon The Tempest as Shakspere's latest play. Perhaps 
it actually was such ; perhaps A Winter's Tale or 
Cymbeline, or both may have followed it in point of 
time. It does not matter greatly for the purposes 
of the present study, which preceded and which suc- 
ceeded. These three plays, as we shall see, form 
a little group by themselves, but it is The Tempest 
which gives its most perfect expression to the spirit that 
breathes through these three plays which bring to an 
end the dramatic career of Shakspere ; and therefore for 
us it is Shakspere's latest play.* We have been endeavour- 

* Professor Ingram, in his paper " On the ' ureak-endings ' of Sliak- 
spere," arranges the plays of the weak-ending period in the following 
order: — Antony and Cleopatra» Ooriolanns, Pericles, Tempest, Cymbeline, 
Winter's Tale, Two Noble Kinsmen, Henry VIII. From an /esthetic point 
of view Antony and Cleopatra and Coriolanus seem to me connected with 
the plays that immediately precede, not with those that follow them. 
Prof. Ingram is disposed to place Macbeth immediately before Antony 
and Cleopatra. I had independently arrived at the same opinion* 
Timon cannot be far off, and must, I think, come before The Tempest. 
Observe that Pericles, Two Noble Kinsmen, aifd Henry VIII. are 
Sh&ksperian fragments. Thus The Tempesl^ Winter's Tale, and Cym* 

Shaksper^s Last Plays. 381 

ing, so to speak, to scan the metre of Shakspere's life ; 
to do this rightly, we must count rather by accents than 
by syllables ; if we can find the last accented syllable, 
we have found the real close of the verse, although it 
may be an additional syllable or two follow, and enrich 
the verse with a dying fall. And so in the case of Timon 
of Athens it may actually lie in point of time at a con- 
siderable distance from those discoveries of evil in man's 
heart, which inspired the soliloquies of Hamlet, and the 
frenzied utterances of Lear ; but in Timon indignation -j 
has attained its ideal expression ; it is the decumen wave 
which sets shoreward from that infinite and stormy sea 
of human passion. 

Timon of Athens, although deservedly one of the least 
popular of Shakspere's plays, belongs to his best period, 
and was written by the poet with no half-hearted de- 
votion to his subject. Whether Shakspere wrote his 
portion first, and left it imfinished to be completed by a 
later dramatist, — the conjecture of Mr Reay ; whether 
Shakspere's play was cut down and altered for the stage, 
to please a public which demanded comedy and the 
conceits of clownage, either during the poet's life time, 
or in the interval between his death and the appearance 
of the first folio ; * or whether Shakspere worked upon 

beline remam as the three eampleie plays whieh represent the final 
period of Shakspere's authorship. 1 treat Timon, in this chapter, as 
earlier than these, but not a great deal earlier. 

* See the laborious article by K. Delius " Ueber Shakespeare's Timon 
of Athens," Jahrbuch der Deutschen Shakespeare^esellschaft, vol. ii., 
and that by B. Tschischwitz '* Timon von Athen. Ein kritischer Ver- 
Buch." Jahrbuch, voL iy. There is yet another and plausible theory, 
originated by Ulrici, and modified by Earl Elze. In the first Folio 
Timon ends upon p. 99. A vacant page (100) follows. Then im- 
mediately comes JuliuB Csoaur, beginning not on p. 101, but on p. 

382 Shakspere — His Mind and Art 

the material of a preceding writer (perhaps George Wilkins) 
as Mr Knight believed, and Delius, and Mr Spedding now 
maintain, — ^these are questions which do not essentially 
concern us. 

With few exceptions those portions of the play in 
which Timon is the speaker, can have come from no 
other hand than that of Shakspere. K such conjectures 
were allowed to possess any worth, one might venture 
to assert that by the time this play was written, Shak- 
spere had mastered the impulses within himself to mere 
rage against the evil that is in the world. The impres- 
^ sion which the play leaves is that of Shakspere's sanity. 
; He could now so fully and fearlessly enter into Timon's 
• mood, because he was now past all danger of Timon's 
malady. He had now learnt to strive with evil and 
to subdue it ; he had now leamt to forgive. And 
therefore he could dare to utter that wrath against man- 

109. Although there are irregalaritiee in the pagination of the first 
Folio, Bach a gap between two plays does not occar elsewhere in the 
volume. Sheet ii is wanting. Timon ends with sheet hh: Julius 
Cffisar begins with kk. Ulrici is of opinion that the printing of Julius 
G»sar was begun before that of Timon was finished, probably because 
the manuscript of Timon was imperfect, -and the deficiencies could not 
be immediately supplied. Shakspere's manuscript was not forthcoming; 
the play had to be made up from the scattered parts of the individual 
actors. These parts were marred by omissions, and by the introduction 
of passages not by Shakspere. Karl Elze adds the conjecture that only 
the parts of the principal actors could be found. (The play seems not 
to have been popular, and perhaps it had not been represented for 
several years.) To complete the play the editors of the first Folio fell 
back, for minor parts, upon the old Timon of Athens (not much older 
perhaps than Shakspere's play), which may have been the work of 
George Wilkins. Hence the incoherences and inconsistencies of the 
play as it exists at present See the preface by Karl Elze to Timon 
in the German Shakespeare Society's edition of Tieck's and Schlegel's 
translation of Shakspere. For Mr Fleay's study of this play see 
Transactions of the New Shakspere Society. 

Shaksperis Last Plays. 383 

kind to which he had assuredly been tempted, but to 
which he had never wholly yielded. 

It would seem that about this period Shakspere's mind 
was much occupied with the questions. In what tem- 
per are we to receive the injuries inflicted upon us by 
our fellow men ? How are we to bear ourselves towards 
those that wrong us ? How shall we secure our inward 
being from chaos amid the evils of the world ? How shall 
we attain to the most just and noble attitude of soul in 
which life and the injuries of life may be confronted ? 
Now, here, in Timon we see one way in which a man 
may make his response to the injuries of life ; he may 
turn upon the world with a fruitless and suicidal rage. 
Shakspere was interested in the history of Timon, not 
merely as a dramatic study, and not merely for the sake 
of moral edification, but because he recognised in the 
Athenian misanthrope one whom he had known, an 
intimate acquaintance, the Timon of Shakspere's own 
breast. Shall we hesitate to admit that there was such 
a Timon in the breast of Shakspere "? We are accus- 
tomed to speak of Shakspere's gentleness and Shak- 
spere's tolerance so foolishly, that we find it easier to 
conceive of Shakspere as indulgent towards baseness 
and wickedness, than as feeling measureless rage and 
indignation against them — ^rage and indignation which 
would sometimes flash beyond their bounds, and strike at 
the whole wicked race of man. And it is certain that 
Shakspere's delight in human character, his quick and 
penetrating sympathy with almost every variety of man, 
saved him from any persistent injustice towards the 
world. But it can hardly be doubted, that the 

384 Shakspere — His Mind and Art. 

creator of Hamlet, of Lear, of Timon, saw clearly, and 
y felt deeply, that there is a darker side to the world and 
to the soul of man. 

The Shakspere invariably bright, gentle, and genial is 
the Shakspere of a myth. The man actually discoverable 
behind the plays was a man tempted to passionate ex- 
^tremes, but of strenuous will, and whose highest self 
pronounced in fftvour of sanity. Therefore he resolved 
that he would set to rights his material life, and he did 
so. And again he resolved that he would bring 
into harmony with the highest facts and laws of the 
world his spiritual being ; and that in his own high 
fashion he accomplished also. The plays impress us 
as a long study of self-control, — of self-control at one 
with self-surrender to the highest facts and laws of 
human life. Shakspere set about attaining self-mastery, 
not of the petty, pedantic kind, which can be dictated 
by a director, or described in a manual, but large, 
powerful, luminous, and cahn ; and by sustained effort 
he succeeded in attaining this in the end. It is impos- 
sible to conceive that Shakspere should have traversed 
life, and felt its insufficiencies, and injuries, and griefs, 
without incurring Timon's temptation, — the temptation 
^ to fierce and barren resentment. What man or woman, 
who has sought good things, and with whom life has not 
gone altogether smoothly and pleasantly, has not known, 
if not for days and weeks then for hours, if not for hours 
then for intense moments, a Timon within him, in- 
capable for the while of making any compromise with the 
world, and fiercely abandoning it with cries of weak and 
passionate revolt ? And when again such a man accepts 



Shaksper^s Last Plays. 385 

life, and human society, it is not what it had heen 
before. The music of his life is a little lowered 
throughout ; the pegs are set down. Or what had been 
a nerve is changed to a sinew. Or he finds himself a 
little more indifferent to pain. Or now and then a 
pungent sentence escapes his lips, which is unintelli- 
gible to those who had only known his former self. 

In the character of Timon, Shakspere gained drama- v. '^ 
tic remoteness from his own personality. It would have 
been contrary to the whole habit of the dramatists 
genius to have used one of his characters merely as a 
mask to conceal his visage, while he relieved himself 
with lyrical vehemence of the feelings that oppressed 
him. No : Shakspere, when Timon was written, had 
attained self-possession, and could transfer himself with 
real disinterestedness into the person of the young 
Athenian favourite of fortune. This, in more than one 
instance, was Shakspere's method, — having discovered 
some single central point of sympathy between his chief . 
character and his past or present self, to secure freedom 
from all mere lyrical intensity by studying that one 
common element under conditions remote from those 
which had ever been proper or peculiar to himself 

Timon, in the opening scene, surrounded by the para- 
sites of Athens, abandoned to a prodigality of heart and • 
of hand, lives on terms of careless fellowship with all 
mankind and with himself. Like Lear, he is slenderly 
acquainted with his own heart, and he knows nothing of 
the hearts and the lives of the men about him. To 
him life's business is a summer mood. He moves in a 
dream, — a beneficent genius waited on by spirits, which 

2 B 

386 Shakspere — His Mind and A rt 

the magic of his bounty has conjured around him. 
" We are bom to do benefits ; and what better or pro- 
perer can we call our own than the riches of our 
friends ? Oh, what a precious comfort 'tis to have so 
many, like brothers, commanding one another's fortunes!" 
Ventidius is imprisoned for debt, and sends a servant to 
beg for the sum of five talents. Timon, who has had no 
eye for the baseness of the man, exclaims — 

Noble Ventidiufl I Well ; 
I am not of that feather to ahake off 
My friend when he must need me. I do know him, 
A gentleman that well deserves a help : 
Which he shall hare : I'll pay the debt and free him. 

Timon is acquainted with the commonplaces about the 
deceitfulness of the world, and utters them, but in an 
unreal, insubstantial way of talking : 

Painting is welcome. 
The painting is almost the natural man ; 
For since dishonour traffics with man^s nature, 
He is but outside ; these pencilled figures are 
Even such as they give out. I like your work. 

These words are not insincere, but they are altogether 
unreal and notional And precisely because the good- 
ness of Timon is so indiscriminating, so lax and liberal, 
it is not veritable goodness, which, as Shakspere was 
well aware, has in it something of severity.* Precisely 
because Timon has not discovered evil in man's hecurt, he 
has made no genuine discovery of human goodness. He 
is altogether remote from the fact. His friends are 

* In Richardson's " Essays on Shakespeare's Dramatic Characters " 
(1786), the truth about Timon is brought out under a number of heads 
in a methodioal and somewhat dry manner, but rightly and carefully. 

Shakspere's Last Plays. 387 

summer swallows, who will fly away when the days grow 
cold. The one honest heart that he might have known 
— his steward's — ^is to him indistinguishable from the 
rest. His wealth has melted away, and he remains 
unaware that such is the case. The steward presses 
the truth upon him, but Timon has no ears to hear it. 
The summer sea of happiness and universal benevolence, 
how shall it ever be ruffled ? 

Having never made discovery of human virtue the 
first incursion of veritable fact upon Timon, the first in 
his whole life, is that of the selfishness, ingratitude, and 
baseness of man. The entire dream -structure of his life 
topples, totters, and crashes down. The mirage of uni- 
versal brotherhood among men vanishes, and he is left in 
the barren wastes of the world. And because Timon 
has lived carelessly, with relaxed moral fibre, now when 
calamity overtakes him, he is wanting in all capacity for 
patient endurance of the heart. He is " passion's 
slave : " 

A pipe for Fortune*B finger 
To sound what Btop she please. 

Shakspere in an earlier play — that from which these 
words are borrowed — ^had pictured a man who had taken 
" Fortune's buflfets and rewards with equal thanks." 
But the character of Horatio was not lax and self- 
indulgent ; he was " more an antique Roman than a 
Dane." Timon is unable to accept his sorrow, and hold 
his nature strenuously under command until it can 
adjust itself to the altered state of things. He flings 
himself from an airy, imreal philanthropy into passionate 
hatred of men. He is a revolter from humanity. He 

388 Shakspere — His Mind and Art, 

foams at the mouth with imprecation. He shakes off 
the dust of Athens from his feet, and strives to maintain 
himself in isolation, the one protester in the world against 
the cruelty and selfishness and baseness of the race. 

Here is one way of bearing a man's self towards the 
world which wrongs us. Nor is it devoid of a certain 
mistaken nobleness. There is at least something baser 
than the misanthropy of Timon — complacent acquiescence 
in the life of greed, of selfishness, of unrighteousness in 
the cowardly and lascivious Athens. Timon's nage pro- 
ceeds in part at least from the natural goodness of Timon's 
heart. Misanthropy, as TJlrici has said, was an atmo- 
sphere of poison to him ; he was therefore of necessity 
the victim of his annihilating rage against himself and 
all mankind. But one entrance into peace remained 
for Timon — death, and the oblivion of death. There, 
upon the very " hem of the sea," as far from the world 
of men as may be, where the wave twice a-day effaces 
the print of human feet, and where no tear will be shed 
for him except the salt spray of the breaking billow, 
Timon will cease to be, and will attain everlasting forget- 
fulness. Qold he had become again possessed of, yellow 
and massy ; but gold, without the human love of which 
he had dreamed, is to him worse than worthless, — ^it is the 
detestable corrupter of men. Power and influence he is 
offered again by the Athenian senate ; but he cannot 
accept them among the proud wrong-doers, the loveless 
voluptuaries of the city. Better gnaw his root in solitude, 
and curse — ^yet better still to let sour words go by, and 
rest beneath the sands and the waves ! The misan- 
thropy of Timon was less a crime than a cruel disease. 

Shaksperes Last Plays. 389 

to which no one could be liable who did not possess a 
potential nobleness of nature. Neither his love was 
wise nor his hatred, but neither his love nor his hatred 
was altogether ignoble : 

Though thou abhorr'dBt in us our human griefs, 
Scom'dst our brains* flow and those our droplets which 
From niggard nature fall, yet rich conceit 
Taught thee to make yast Neptune weep for aye 
On thy low grave, on faults forgiven. Dead 
Is noble Timon ; of whose memory 
Hereafter more. 

The play of Timon contains a twofold contrast — ^First, 
the misanthropy of Timon is contrasted with that of 
Apemantus; and secondly, Timon's attitude towards 
those who have wronged him is contrasted with the 
bearing and conduct of Alcibiades. Apemantus serves 
as an interpreter and apologist of Timon. He has 
erected his natural churlishness into a philosophy and a 
creed. He snarls at the heels of humanity with a 
currish virulence, and yet is willing in currish fashion to 
pick up the scraps that fall. As lago grows and puts 
forth his evil blossoms in an atmosphere of disbelief in 
beauty and virtue, which is death to Othello, so Ape- 
mantus finds it right and natural to hate mankind, and 
he does it with a zest and vulgar good-pleasure in 
hatred ; while Timon hates, and is slain by hatred, 
because it was his need to love. 

Oervinus has rightly noticed that Shakspere in several 
of his dramas reflects his main plot in a secondary plot, 
making the latter serve to illustrate and illuminate the 
former. Thus the story of Gloucester and his unnatural 
Edmund is a secondary plot reflecting the story of Lear 

390 Shakspere — His Mind and Art, 

and his daughters : the thunder of that moral tempest 
rolls away with reverberations, which prolong and intensify 
its menace. In Hamlet, the position of Laertes, who had 
lost a father by foul means, and who hastens to revenge 
his death, repeats the position of the Danish prince him- 
self. In The Tempest, the treasonable attempt of Caliban, 
Stephano, and Trinculo upon the life of Prospero, is by- 
its wickedness and its folly a kind of parody upon the 
. treason of Antonio and Sebastian against the King of 
Naples. Here, in Timon of Athens, the story of Alci- 
biades, so iU connected by external points of contact 
with that of the principal character, fulfils the same 
ethical and aesthetic purpose that the secondary plots 
fulfil in Lear, in Hamlet, and in The Tempest. This 
portion of the play, if not written by Shakspere, was 
written either under Shakspere's direction, or by one 
who had a certain comprehension of his method as an 

Alcibiades comes before the Athenian senate to plead 
on behalf of the life of a friend who had slain one who 
wronged his honour : 

With a noble fury and fair spirit, 
Seeing his reputation touched to death, 
He did oppose his foe. 

It was precisely such plain loyalty of friendship as this 
shown by Alcibiades, which Timon had not found, and 
not finding which he had abandoned himself to despera- 
tion. The senators — ^whose words are excellent words, 
but wholly unreal — ^utter wise maxims about the patient 
bearing of injuries, and the un worthiness of revenge. 

Shaksper^s Last Plays. 391 

He^B truly yaliant, that can wisely sofFer 

The worst that man can breathe, and make his wrongs 

His outsides, to wear them like his raiment, carelessly, 

And ne'er prefer his injuries to his heart 

To bring it into danger. 

But Alcibiades, who is of an active, practical, unideal 
character, is not able to discover wisdom in the suflFering 
of evils which, by opposing, a man may end 

Why do fond men expose themselves to battle, 
And not endure all threats ? Sleep upon% 
And let the foes quietly cut their throats 
Without repugnancy? 

Alcibiades, for daring the anger of the Senate, is sent 
into perpetual banishment. He, like Timon, is com- 
pelled to experience the ingratitude of his fellows. But 
Alcibiades has been living in the real world, and is able 
immediately to assign its place to this ingratitude and 
baseness in a world in which evil and good are mingled. 
Although possessed of none of the potential nobleness of 
Timon, Alcibiades possesses one virtue, — that of perceiv- 
ing such facts as lie within the range of his limited 
observation. He does not see the whole world, but he 
sees the positive limited half of it rightly in the main. 
He is less than Timon, and yet greater; for Timon 
miserably fails through want of the one gift which Alci- 
biades possessed. In like manner Hamlet had failed for j 
want of the gift which Fortinbras possessed; and yet 
Hamlet's was beyond all measure a larger and rarer soul 
than that of the Prince of Norway. Alcibiades has, at 
least, not been living in a dream ; he lays hold of the 
positive and coarser pleasures of life, and endures its 
positive, limited pains, definite misfortunes which lie 

392 Shakspere — His Mind and Art. 

within appreciable bounds. No absolute, ideal anguish 
like that of Timon can overwhelm him. Accordingly, 
instead of wasting himself in futile rage against mankind, 
Alcibiades resolves to set himself in active opposition to 
those who have wronged him. While Timon is lifting 
weak hands of indignation to the gods, Alcibiades advances 
against Athens with swords and drums. To him the 
Senate will bow with humble entreaties for grace. Timon 
had fiercely thrust away their advances, because he could 
not accept benefits or render service in a base world 
which was remote from the ideal he had dreamed. Alci- 
biades, who deals with the world as it is, will punish and 
wiU pardon. The rage of Timon had been barren ; it is 
hushed at last under the sands and the wash of waves. 
But the positive opposition offered to evil by Alcibiades, 
though in kind of no ideal purity or virtue, bears fruit : — 

Bring me to yoar dty, 
And I will use the olive with my swoid, 
Make war breed peace, make peace stint war, make each 
Prescribe to other as each other*8 leech. 
Let our drums strike. 

The olive and the sword — ^punishment and pardon, these 
were the beneficent gifts which Athens really needed. 
These, and not the lax philanthropy, not the frustrate 
rage against mankind of Timon. 

Yet the idealist Timon was infinitely interesting to 
the imagination of Shakspere. The practical and 
limited character of Alcibiades was esteemed highly by 
him, but did not really interest him. In like manner 
Hamlet, who failed, interested Shakspere ; Fortinbras, 
who succeeded, seemed admirable to him, but in his pre- 
sence Shakspere's sympathies and imagination were not 

Shakspere's Last Plays. 393 

deeply moved. Can we miss the significaiice of such a 
fact as this ? Can we doubt that the Hamlets and 
Timons of Shakspere's plays represent the side of the 
dramatist's own character, in which lay his peculiar 
strength; and also his special danger and weakness. An 
Alcibiades, or a Fortinbras, represents that side of his 
character into which he threw himself for protection 
against the weakness of excess of passion, or excess of 
thought It was the portion of his being which was 
more elaborated than the rest, and less spontaneous; 
and therefore he highly esteemed it, and loved it little. 
There is a poem by Shakspere in which he expresses his 
admiration of the calm, self-possessed, successful man, 
upon whom nature bestows her gifts, because she is a 
good housewife, and knows that by such bestowal her 
gifts are husbanded; while the sensitive, the eager, the 
enthusiastic, who cannot possess themselves, squander the 
largess of the great giver of good things. But while 
Shakspere thus expresses admiration, he remains remote 
and uimxoved in the presence of such a practical, success- 
ful, unideal character. We discern that in his secret 
heart he knew there was a more excellent way. " The 
children of this world," Shakspere would say, " are wiser 
in their generation than the children of light." Let us 
borrow from the children of this world the secret of their 
success. Yet we cannot go over to them ; in spite of 
danger and in spite of weakness we remain the children 
of light 

They who have power to hurt and will do none, 
That do not do ^e thing they most do show, 
Who, moving others, are themselves as stone, 
Unmoved^ cold^ and to temptation slowi 

394 Shakspere — His Mind and Art, 

They rightly do inherit heaven's graces 
And husband nature^s riches from expense; 
They are the lords and owners of their faces, 
Others but stewards of their excellence. 

Were there in the life of Shakspere certain events 
which compelled him to a bitter yet precious gain of ex- 
perience in the matter of the wrongs of man to man, and 
from which he procured instruction in the difficult art 
of bearing oneself justly towards one's wrongers ? If the 
Sonnets of Shakspere, written many years before the close 
of Shakspere's career as dramatist, be autobiographical, 
we may perhaps discover the sorrow which first roused 
his heart and* imagination to their long inquisition of 
evil and grief, and which, sinking down into his great 
soul, and remaining there until all bitterness had passed 
away, bore fruit in the most mature of Shakspere's writ- 
ings, distinguished as these are by serene pathetic 
strength and stem yet tender beauty.* 

The Sonnets of Shakspere were probably written 

* I shall not enter into the controyersy as to the interpretation of the 
Sonnets. The principal theories held with respect to them maybe 
classified as follows : I. They are poems about an imaginary friendship 
and love ; Dyce, Belius, H. Morley. II. They are i>artly imaginary, 
partly autobiographical; 0. Knight, H. von Friesen, R. Simpson (On the 
Italian love-philosophy see Simpson's interesting ** Philosophy of Shake- 
speare's Sonnets," TrUbner, 1868). III. They form a great allegory ; 
DrBamstorflf (" Schlttssel zu Shakspere's Sonnetten," 1860. Mr W. H. 
=Mr William Himself !), Mr Heraud (" Shakspere's Inner life." The 
young friend=Ideal Manhood), Carl Karpf. IV. They are autobio- 
graphical ; (a) Mr W. H.=Henry Wriothesley (the initials reversed), 
Earl of Southampton : — Drake, Gervinus, Kreyssig, and others ; (6) Mr 
W. H.= William Herbert, Earl of Pembroke :--Bright, Boaden, A. 
Brown, Hallam, H. Brown. V. They were partly addressed to South- 
ampton ; other sonnets were written in his name to Elizabeth Vernon ; 
other some, to Southampton ia £. Vernon's name ; and subsequently 
the Earl of Pembroke engaged Shakspere to write sonnets on his behalf 


Shakspere's Last Plays. 395 

during those years when as dramatist he was engaged 
upon the substantial material of English history, and f 
when he was accumulating those resources which were 
to make him a wealthy burgher of Stratford. This 
practical, successful man, who had now arrived at middle 
age, and was growing rich, who had never found delight, 
as Marlowe, Nash, Greene, and other wild livers had, in 
the flimsy idealism of knocking his head against the 4 
solid laws of the world, was yet not altogether that self- 
possessed, cheerful, prudent person, who has stood with 
some writers for the veritable Shakspere. In the Son- 
nets we recognise three things — ^that Shakspere was 
capable of measureless personal devotion ; that he was 
tenderly sensitive, sensitive above all to every diminu- ' 
tion or alteration of that love his heart so eagerly craved ; 
and that when wronged, although he suflTered anguish, 
he transcended his private injury, and learned to forgive. 
There are lovers of Shakspere so jealous of his honour 
that they are unable to suppose that any grave moral 

to the dark woman, Lady Bich. Of part of this theory the first 
suggestion was given by Mrs Jameson. It was elaborated by Mr 
Gerald Massey in the Quarterly Review, April 1864, and in his large 
volume ** Shakspeare's Sonnets, and his Private Friends." The pecu- 
liarity of Mr Henry Brown's interpretation (** The Sonnets 'of Shake- 
speare Solved.*' J. B. Smith. 1870.) is, that he discovers in the son- 
nets an intention of Shakspere to parody or jest at the fashionable love- 
poetry and love-philosophy of the day. See on this subject the articles 
by Delius and by H. von Friesen in Shakespeare JahrbUcher, vols. i. and 
iv. ; the chapter ''Shakspere's episch-lyrische Gedichte und Sonnette" 
in H. von Friesen's '* Altengland und William Shakspere" (1874) ; and 
**Der Mythus von William Shakspere, '* by N. Delius (Bonn. 1851), 
pp. 29—31. Critics whose minds are of the business-like, matter-of- 
fact, prosaic type cannot conceive how the poems could be autobiogra- 
phical Coleridge, on the other hand, found no difficulty in believing 
them to be such ; and Wordsworth emphatically declares them to 
express Shakspere's '* own feelings in his own person." 

396 Shakspere—His Mind and Art. 

flaw could have impaired the nobiUty of his life and 
manhood. Shakspere, as he is discovered in his poems 
and his plays, appears rather to have been a man who 
by strenuous effort, and with the aid of the good powers 
of the world, was saved, so as by fire. Before Shakspere 
zealola demand our attention to ingenious theories which 
help us to credit the immaculateness of Shakspere's 
life, let them prove to us that his writings never offend. 
When they have shown that Shakspere's poetry possesses 
the proud virginity of Milton's poetry, they may go oq 
to show that Shakspere's youth was devoted, like the 
youth of Milton, to an ideal of moral elevation and 
purity. When we have been convinced that the same 
moral and spiritual temper which gave rise to the 
" Comus " gave rise to the "Venus and Adonis," we shall 
think it probable that Shakspere could have uttered 
the proud words about his unspotted life that Milton 

Assuredly the inference from Shakspere's writings is not 
that he held himself with virginal strength and pride 
remote from the blameful pleasures of the world. What 
no reader will find anywhere in the plays or poems of 
Shakspere is a cold-blooded, hard, or selfiish line; 
aU is warm, sensitive, vital, radiant with delight, or 
a-thriU with pain. And what we may dare to affirm of 
Shakspere's life is that whatever its sins may have been, 
they were not haxd, selfish, deUbemte, cold-blooded sina 
1 he errors of his heart originated in his sensitiveness, in 
hisin^tion (not at first inured to the hardness of 

enef L? i"'^' " "^^ ^"^^^ consciousness of exist- 
enee, and n. the self-abandoning devotion of his heartj 

Shaksperis Last Plays. 397 

There axe some noble lines by Chapman, in which he 

pictures to himself the life of great energy, enthusiasms, 

and passions, which for ever stands upon the edge of 

utmost danger, and yet for ever remains in absolute 

security : — 

Give me a spirit that on this life's rough sea 
Loves to have his sails fill'd with a lusty wind 
Even till his sail-yards tremble, his masts crack, 
And his rapt ship run on her side so low 
That she drinks water, and her keel ploughs air ; 
There is no danger to a man that knows 
What life and death is, — there's not any law 
Exceeds his knowledge ; neither is it lawful 
That he should stoop to any other law.* 

Such a master-spirit, pressing forward under strained 
canvas, was Shakspere. If the ship dipped and drank 
water, she rose again ; and at length we behold her 
within view of her haven, sailing under a large, calm 
wind, not without tokens of stress of weather, but if 
battered, yet unbroken by the waves. It is to dull, 
lethargic natures that a moral accident is fatal, because 
they are tending nowhither, and lack energy and mo- 
mentum to right themselves again. To say anything 
against decent, lethargic vices, and timid virtues, any- 
thing to the advantage of the strenuous life of bold 
action and eager emotion, which necessarily incurs risks, 
and sometimes suffers, is, we shall be told, " dangerous." 
Well, then, be it so ; it is dangerous. 

The Shakspere whom we discern in the Sonnets had 

certainly not attained the broad mastery of life which 

the Stratford bust asserts to have been Shakspere's in 

his closing years. Life had been found good by him 

* Byron's Conspiracy, Act IIL, Scene 1 (last lines). 


398 Shakspere — His Mind and Art 

who owned those lips, and whose spirit declares itself in 
the massive animation of the total outlook of that face.* 
When the greater numher of these Sonnets were written 
Shakspere could have understood Romeo ; he could have 
understood Hamlet ; he could not have conceived Duke 
Prospero. Under the joyous exterior of those days lay a 
craving, sensitive, unsatisfied heart, which had not entire 
possession of itself, which could misplace its affections, 
and resort to all those pathetic frauds, by which mis- 
placed affections strive to conceal an error from them- 
selves. The friend in whose personality Shakspere 
found a source of measureless delight — ^high-bom, beau- 
tiful, young, clever, accomplished, ardent — ^wronged him. 
The woman from whom Shakspere for a time received a 
joyous quickening of his life, which was half pain — ^a 
woman of stained character, and the reverse of beautiiul, 
but a strong nature, intellectual, a lover of art, and possessed 
of curious magnetic attraction, with her dark eyes which 
illuminated a pale face — ^wronged him also. Shakspere 
bitterly felt the wrong — ^felt most bitterly the wrong 
which was least to be expected, that of his friend. It 
has been held to be an additional baseness that Shak- 
spere could forgive, that he could rescue himself from 
indignant resentment, and adjust his nature to the 
altered cu-cumstances. Possibly Shakspere may not 
have subscribed to all the items in the code of honour ; 
he may not have regarded as inviolable the prohibited 
degrees of forgiveness. He may have seen that the 

a1 * '^^ ^ *^® ™°^ remarkable, becauee the original of the boat was 
^^ certainly a mask taken after death; and the bnst betrays the 
presence of physical death, over which however life triumphs. 

Shaksperes Last Plays. 399 

wrong done to him was human, natural, almost inevit- 
able. He certainly saw that the chief wrong was not 
that done to him, but committed by his friend against 
his own better nature. Delivering his heart from the 
prepossessions of wounded personal feeling, and looking 
at the circumstances as they actually were, he may have 
found it very natural and necessary not to banish from 
his heart the man he loved. However this may have 
been, his own sanity and strength, and the purity of his 
work as artist depended on his ultimately delivering his 
soul from all bitterness. Besides, life was not exhausted. 
The ship righted itself, and went ploughing forward 
across a broad sea. Shakspere foimd ever more and 
more in life to afford adequate sustenance for man's 
highest needs of intellect and of heart. life became 
ever more encircled with presences of beauty, of good- 
ness, and of terror ; and Shakspere's fortitude of heart 
increased. Nevertheless, such experiences as those 
recorded in the Sonnets could not pass out of his life, 
and in the imaginative recurrence of past moods might 
at any subsequent time become motives of his art. 
Passion had been purified ; and at last the truth of 
things stood out clear and calm.* 

The Sonnets tell more of Shakspere's sensitiveness 
than of Shakspere's strength. In the earlier poems of 
the collection, his delight in human beauty, intellect, 
grace, expresses itself with endless variation. Nothing 

* AU tliat refers in the above paragraph to the supposed facts, which 
anderlie the Sonnets, may be taken with reserve. Only, if this portion 
of " the mythns of Shakspere " be no myth but a reality, the interpre- 
tation of events in their moral aspect given above is the one borne out 
1^ the Sonnets and by Shakspere's subsequent life. 

400 Shakspere — His Mind and A rt. 

seems to him more admiraUe than manhood. But this 
joy is controlled and saddened by a sense of the transi- 
toriness of all things, the ruin of time, the inevitable 
progress of decay. The love expressed in the early Son- 
nets is love which has known no sorrow, no change, no 
wrong ; it is an ecstasy which the sensitive heart is as 
yet unable to control : 

Ab an unperfect actor on the stage 

Who with his fear is put beside his part, 

Or some fierce thing replete with too much rage. 

Whose strength's abundance weakens ids own heart, 

80 I, for fear of trust, forget to say 

The perfect ceremony of love's rite, 

And in mine own lovers strength seem to decay, 

Overcharged with burden of mine own lovers might. 

The prudent and sober Shakspere — ^was it he who 
bore this burden of too much love, he whose heart was 
made weak by the abundance of its strength ? He 
cannot sleep : he lies awake, haunted in the darkness 
by the face that is dear to him. He falls into sudden 
moods of despondency, when his own gifts seem narrow 
and of little worth, when his poems, which yield him his 
keenest enjoyment, seem wretchedly remote from what 
he had dreamed, and in the midst of his depression he 
almost despises himself because he is depressed : 

Wishing me like to one more rich in hope. 
Featured like him, like him with friends possessed, 
Desiring this man's art, and that man's scope, 
With what I most enjoy contented least* 

He weeps for the loss of precious friends, for " love's 
long-since-cancelled woe;" but out of all these clouds 

* From its oonneotion, we may infer that this last line refen to 
Shakspere'a poems and plays. 

Shakspere's Last Plays. 401 

and damps the thought of one human soul, which he 
believes beautiful, can deliver him : 

Haply I think on thee, and then my state, 

Like to the lark at break of day arudng 

From sullen earth, sings hymns at heaven^s gate. 

Then comes the bitter discovery, — ^a change in love 
that had seemed to be made for eternity ; coldness, 
estrangement, wrongs upon both sides ; and at the same 
time external trials and troubles arise, and the injurious 
life of actor and playwright — injurious to the delicate 
harmonj and puritj of the poet's nature — ^becomes 
more irksome : 

And almost thence my nature is snbdned 
To what it works in, like the dyer^s hand. 

He pathetically begs, not now for love, but for pity. 
Tet at the worst, and through all suffering, he believes 
in love : 

Let me not to the marriage of trae minds 
Admit impediments. Love is not lore 
Which alters when it alteration finds. 

It can accept its object even though imperfect, and 
still love on. It is not in the common acceptation of 
the word prudential — ^but the vafiniU prudence of the 
heart is indeed no other than love : 

It fears not Policy, that heretic 

Which works on leases of short-numbered honxs. 

But all alone stands hugely politic, 

That it nor gbws with heat, nor drowns with showers. 

He has learnt his lesson ; his romantic attachment, 
which attributed an impossible perfection to his fiiend, 
has become the stronger love which accepts his frigid 

2 c 

402 Shakspere — His Mind and A rt. 

and knows the fact ; knows the fact of frailty and im- 
perfection ; knows also the greater and infinitely pre- 
cious fact of central and surviving loyalty and goodness : 
and this new love is better than the old, because more 

real : 

Oh benefit of ill ! now I find trae 

That better is by evil still made better ; 

And rained love, when it is bnllt anew, 

Grows fairer than at first, more strong, far greater. 

And thus he possesses his soul once more ; he " re- 
turns to his content." 

Such, briefly and imperfectly hinted, is the spirit of 
Shakspere's Sonnets. A great living poet, who has de- 
dicated to the subject of friendship one division of his 
collected works, has written these words : 

Recorders ages hence I 

Come, I will take you down underneath this impassive exterior, — 

I will tell you what to say of me ; 
Publish my name, and hang up my picture as that of the tenderest 

And, elsewhere of these Calamus poems, the poems of 
tender and hardy friendship, he says : 

Here the frailest leaves of me, and yet my strongest-lasting : 
Here I shade and hide my thoughts — I myself do not expose them, 
^nd yet they expose me more than all my other poema 

These words of Whitman may be taken as a motto 
of the Sonnets of Shakspere. In these poems Shakspere 
has hid himself, and is exposed. 

The plays belonging to Shakspere's final period of 
authorship, which I shall consider, are three : Cym- 
beline. The Winter's Tale, and The Tempest.* The 

* Mr Fleay places Cymbeline considerably earlier in the chronological 
snocession of Shakspere's plays (b^gan, 1605; finished, 1607-1608). 

Shakspere's Last Plays. 403 

position in which they were placed in the first Folio 
(whether it was the result of design or accident) 
is remarkable. The volume opens with The Tempest ; 
it closes with Cymbeline, The Winter s Tale is 
the last of the comedies^ which all lie between 
this play and The Tempest The circumstance 
may have been a piece of accident ; but if so, it was 
a lucky accident, which suggests that our first and our 
last impression of Shakspere shall be that of Shakspere 
in his period of large, serene wisdom, and that in the 
light of the clear and solemn vision of his closing years 
all his writings shall be read. Characteristics of versi- 
fication and style, and the enlarged place given to scenic 
spectacle, indicate that these plays were produced much 
about the same time. But the ties of deepest kinship 
between them are spiritual. There is a certain romantic 
element in each.* They receive contributions from 
every portion of Shakspere's genius, but all are 
mellowed, refined, made exquisite ; they avoid the 
extremes of broad humour and of tragic intensity; 
they were written with less of passionate concentra- 
tion than the plays which immediately precede them, 
but with more of a spirit of deep or exquisite recre- 

See his article, "Who wrote onr Old Plays?" in M(temman*8 Magazine, 
September 1874. Professor Hertzberg, upon SBsthetic grounds, and the 
evidence of metrical tests, confirms the view taken above, and assigns 
Cymbeline to the year 1611. In the percentage of feminine endings 
(on which verse-test Hertzberg chiefly relies for the determining of the 
dates of Shakspere's plays), the difference between Cymbeline, Winter's 
Tale, and The Tempest, is less than one. 

• The same remark applies to Shakspere's part of Pericles, which 
belongs to this period. 

404 Shakspere — His Mind and A rt. 

There are moments when Shakspere was not whoDy 

absorbed in his wofk as artist at this period; it is 

as if he were thinking of his own life, or of the 

fields and streams of Stratford, and still wrote on ; 

it is as if the ties which bound him to his art 

were not severing with thrills of strong emotion, but 

were quietly growing slack. The soliloquy of Belarius, 

at the end of the third scene of the third act of 

Cymbeline, and that of Imogen when she discovers the 

headless body of Cloten, were written as if Shakspere 

were now only moderately interested in certain portions 

of his dramatic work.* Such lines as the following, 

purporting to be part of a soliloquy, but being in fact 

an explanation addressed to the audience, could only 

have been written when the poet did not care to 

energize over the less interesting, but still necessary 

passages of his drama : — 

Belarius, Cymbeline ! heaven and my conscience knows 
Thou didst unjustly banish me : whereon, 
At three and two years old, I stole these babes ; 
Thinking to bar thee of succession, as 
Thou ref f st me of my lands. Euriphile, 
Thou wast their nurse; they took thee for their mother, 

* Gervinus, writing of Antony and Cleopatra (and he repeats the 
remark in the criticism of Timon of Athens), says, " It would appear 
as if Shakespeare, about the time between 1607-10, had had .... 
intervals in which he wrote his poetry in a manner altogether more 
careless, whether we consider it from an aesthetic or an ethical point o€ 
view." Shakespeare Commentaries, vol. ii. p. 35& Oervinus attri- 
butes this carelessness to ''the state of the poet's mind,'' p. 422. I 
see none of this alleged carelessness in Antony and Cleopatra, or in 
Timon. Both plays are written with intense and complete imaginative 
energy. Not so, however, with Cymbeline and The Winter's Tale. 
See on this subject some excellent remarks of Ereyssig. Yorlesungen 
Uber Shakespeare (ed. 1858), vol. iii. pp. 422-424. 


Shaksperis Last Plays. 405 

And every day do honour to her grave : 
Myself, Belariufl, that am Morgan called, 
They take for natural father.* 

The impression that Shakspere's interest in his art 
was less intense than previously it had been is confirmed 
by the circumstance that he now contributes portions to 
plays which are completed by other hands in an inferior 
manner. Into the subject of Pericles he entered with 
manifest delight ; but he could be content to see his 
" Marina " wedged in between the rough and coarse work f 
of another writer. In The Two Noble Kinsmen the de- i 
gradation of Shakspere's work by the unclean imderplot ^^ 
of Fletcher is painful, and almost intolerable. And in '. 
Henry VIII. all artistic and ethical unity is sacrificed to 
the vulgar demand for an occasional play and for a 

Yet it is not to be wondered at that Shakspere now 
should feel delivered from the strong urge of imagina- * 1 
tion and feeling, and should write in a more pleasurable, 
more leisurely, and not so great a manner. The period 
of the tragedies was ended. In the tragedies Shakspere 
had made his inquisition into the mystery of evil. He 
had studied those injuries of man to man which are 
irreparable. He had seen the innocent suffering with 
the guilty. Death came and removed the criminal and 
his victim from human sight, and we were left with 
solemn awe upon our hearts in presence of the insoluble 
problems of life. There lay Duncan, who had "borne 

* Professor Ingram suggests to me that the speech as written by 
Shakspere ended immediately before these lines with the words, " The 
game is roused.'' These words are awkwardly repeated at the end of 
the speech, *' The game is up." 

4o6 Shakspere — His Mind and A rL 

his faculties so meek," who had been ''so dear in his 
great oflSce," foully done to death; there lay Cordelia 
lifeless in the arms of Lear; there, Desdemona, mur- 
muring no word, upon the bed ; there, Antony, the 
ruin of Cleopatra's magic; and last, Timon, most 
desperate fugitive from life, finding his sole refuge 
under the oblivious and barren wave. At the saxae 
time that Shakspere had shown the tragic mystery of 
human life, he had fortified the heart by showing that 
to suflfer is not the supreme evil with man, and that 
loyalty and innocence, and self-sacrifice, and pure 
redeeming ardour, exist, and cannot be defeated. 
Now, in his last period of authorship, Shakspere 
remained grave — ^how could it be otherwise ? — but his 
severity was tempered and purified. He had less need 
of the crude doctrine of Stoicism, because the tonic of 
such wisdom as exists in Stoicism had been taken up, 
and absorbed into his blood, 

Shakspere still thought of the graver trials and 
tests which life applies to human character, of the 
wrongs which man inflicts on man ; but his present 
temper demanded not a tragic issue, — it rather de- 
manded an issue into joy or peace. The dissonance 
must be resolved into a harmony, clear and raptur- 
ous, or solemn and profound. And, accordingly, in 
each of these plays. The Winter's Tale, Cymbeline, 
The Tempest, while grievous errors of the heart are 
shown to us, and wrongs of man to man as cruel as 
those of the great tragedies, at the end there is a 
resolution of the dissonance, a reconciliation. This is 
the word which interprets Shakspere's latest plays — 

Shaksperis Last Plays. 407 

reconciliation, "word over all, beautiful as the sky." 
It is not, as in the earlier comedies — ^The Two Gentle- 
men of Verona, Much Ado about Nothing, As You Like 
It, and others — ^a mere dSnouement The resolution 
of the discords in these latest jisLjs is not a mere stage 
necessity, or a necessity of composition, resorted to by 
the dramatist to effect an ending of his play, and little 
interesting his imagination or his heart. Its significance 
here is ethical and spiritual ; it is a moral necessity. 

In The Winter's Tale, the jealousy of Leontes is not 
less, but more fierce and unjust than that of Othello. 
No lago whispers poisonous suspicion in Leontes' ear. 
His wife is not untried, nor did she yield to him her 
heart with the sweet proneness of Desdemona : — 

Three crabbed months bad soured themselves to death 
Ere I could make thee open thy white band, 
And clap thyself my love ; then didst thou utter 
" I am yours for ever." 

Hermione is suspected of sudden, and shameless dis- 
honour, she who is a matron, the mother of Leontes' 
children, a woman of serious and sweet dignity of charac- 
ter, inured to a noble self-command, and firank only 
through the consciousness of invulnerable loyalty. "^ 
The passion of Leontes is not, like that of Othello, a 
terrible chaos of soul, — confusion and despair at the loss 
of what had been to him the fairest thing on earth ; 
there is a gross personal resentment in the heart of 
Leontes, not sorrowful, judicial indignation; his pas- 

• The contraBt between Othello and The Winter's Tale has been 
noticed by Coleridge, and is admirably drawn out in detail by Gervinua 
and Kreyasig, to whose treatment of the subject the above paragraph is 

4o8 Shakspere — His Mind and Art 

sion is hideously grotesque^ while that of Othello is 

The conseqaences of this jealous madness of Leontes 
are less calamitous than the ruin wrought by Othello's 
jealousy, because Hermione is courageous and collected, 
and possessed of a fortitude of heart which yeara of 
suffering are unable to subdue : 

There^s some ill planet reigns : 
I must be patient till the heayena look 
With an aspect mate favourable. Good my lords, 
I am not prone to weeping, as our sex 
Commonly are ; the want of which yain dew 
Perchance, shall dry your pities ; but I hare 
That honourable grief lodged here, which bums 
Worse than tears drown. Beseech you aU, my lords, 
With thoughts so qualifiiod as your charities 
Shall best instruct you, measure me ; and so 
The king's will be perf orm'd ! * 

But although the wave of calamity is broken by the firm 
resistance offered by the fortitude of Hermione, it com- 
mits ravage enough to make it remembered. Upon the 
Queen comes a lifetime of solitude and pain. The hope- 
ful son of Leontes and Hermione is done to death, and 
the infant Perdita is estranged from her kindred and h^ 
friends. But at length the heart of Leontes is instructed 
and purified by anguish and remorse. He has "per- 
formed a saint-like sorrow," redeemed his faults, paid 
down more penitence than done trespass : 

Whilst I remember 
Her and her virtues, I cannot f(»get 
My blemishes in them, and so still think of 

* Mrs Jameson applies to the passion of Hermione, the fine saying of 
Madame de 8tael, *' II pouvait y avoir des vsgues majestuenses, et non 
de Forage dans son ooBor." 

Shaksperes Last Plays. 409 

The wrong I did myself ; which was so much 
That heirless it hath made my kingdom, and 
Destroyed the sweetest companion that e'er man 
fired Ids hopes out oi 

And Leontes is received back without reproach into the 
arms of his wife ; she embraces him in silence, allowing 
the good pain of his repentance to effect its utmost work. 
The sin of Posthumus had been less grievous ; it had 
been half an error, and his restoration is proportionately 
more joyful. He too had learnt his own Anworthiness, i^^ 
and learnt the measureless worth of Imogen. He will 
not render to the gods in atonement for his wrong less , - 
than his whole life : ' , - ' 

For Imogen's dear life take mine: and though vr' ' ' , 

'Tis not so dear yet 'tis a life : you coined it : J ; « ' 

Tween man and man they weigh not eyery stamp ; Q«, ^ ' 

Thongh light, take pieces for the figure's sake : 
You rather mine, being yours ; and so, great powers, 
If you will take this audit, take this life, 
And cancel these cold bonds. 

It is not with silent forgiveness that Imogen receives 
back her husband ; there are words of quick and ex- 
quisite mockery of joy. Posthumus had struck her to 
the groimd, in her disguise as Lucius' page, because she 
had seemed to make Ught of his love and of his anguish. 
Imogen, witli one word of playful reproach for this last 
error of her husband, as if that were all she had suffered 
at his hands, and a happy mocking challenge to him to 
be cruel again, has her arms around his neck, making 
the union of wife and husband perfect in a moment, fore- 
stalling aU explanation, rendering forever needless the 
painful utterance of penitential sorrow : 


4 1 o Shakspere — His Mind and Art. 

Imo, Why did you throw your wedded lady from yoa ? 

Think that yoa are upon a rock, and now 

Throw me again. 
Po8t Hang there like fruit, my sool, 

Till the tree die I * 

The wrong-doers of The Tempest are a group of persons 
of various degrees of criminality, from Prosperous perfidious 
brother, still active in plotting evil, to Alonzo, whose 
obligations to the Duke of Milan had been of a public 
or princely kind. Spiritual powers are in alliance with 
Prospero, and these, by terror and the awakening of re- 
morse, prepare Alonzo for receiving the balm of Prospero's 
forgivenesa He looks upon his son as lost, and re- 
cognizes in his son*s loss the punishment of his own 
guilt " The powers delaying, not forgetting," have 
incensed the sea and shores against the sinful men ; no- 
thing can deliver them except '' heart-sorrow, and a clear 
life ensuing." Goethe, in the opening of the second part of 
Faust, has represented the ministry of external nature ful- 
filling functions with reference to the human conscience 
precisely the reverse of those ascribed to it in The Tempest 
Faust, escaped from the prison-scene and the madness of 
Margarete, is lying on a flowery grass-plot, weary, rest- 
less, striving to sleep. The Ariel of Goethe calls upon 
his attendant elvish spirits to prepare the soul of Faust 
for renewed energy by bathing him in the dew of Lethe's 
stream, by assuaging his pain, by driving back remorse : 

Beaanftiget des Hereena gximmen Strauas ; 
Entfemt dee Vorwurfe gliihend bittre Pfeile, 
Sein Innres reinigt von erlebtem Graua. 

* The line '* Think that yon are upon a rock," is probably cormpt ; 
no proposed emendation is satisfactory. The criticism of the play of 
Oymbeline in George Fletcher's "Studies of Shakespeare" (1847), may 
be mentioned as intelligent and appreciative 

Shakspere's Last Plays. 4 1 1 

To dismiss from his conscience the sense of the wrong he 
has done to a dead woman, is the initial step in the 
further education and development of Faust Shakspere's 
Ariel, hreathing through the elements and the powers of 
nature, quickens the remorse of the king for a crime of 
twelve years since : 

it ia monstrous, monstroas I 
Methought the billows spoke and told me of it ; 
The winds did sing it to me, and the thunder. 
That deep and dreadful organ-pipe, pronounced 
The name of Prosper : it did bass my trespass, 
Therefore my son i' the ooze is bedded, and ^ 

rU seek him deeper than e*er plummet sounded, 
And with him there lie mudded. 

The enemies of Prospero are now completely ^in his 
power. How shall he deal with them ? They hai per- 
fidiously taken advantage of his unworldly and unpractical 
habits of life ; they had thrust him away from his duke- 
dom ; they had exposed him with his three-years'-old 
daughter in a rotten boat to the mercy of the waves. 
Shall he not now avenge himself without I'emorse ? What 
is Prospero's decision ? 

Though with their high wrongs I am struck to the quick, 

Tet with my nobler reason 'gainst my fury 

Do I take part ; the rarer action is 

In virtue than in vengeance ; they being penitent, 

The sole drift of my purpose doth extend 

Not a frown further. 

We have seen how Timon turned fiercely upon man- 
kind, and hated the wicked race, — " I am Misanthropes 
and hate mankind." The wrongs inflicted upon Prospero 
were crueller and more base than those from which Timon 
sufifered. But Prospero had not lived in a summer mood 


4 1 2 Shakspere — His Mind and Art 

of lax and prodigal benevolence ; he had lived severely, 
"all dedicated to closeness and the bettering of my 
mind." And out of the strong comes forth sweetness. 
In the play of Cymbeline, the wrong which Posthumus 
has suffered from the Italian lachimo is only less tlian 
that which Othello endures at the hands of lago. But 
lachimo, unlike lago, is unable to sustain the burden of 
his guilt, and sinks under it In the closing scene of 
Cymbeline, that in which Posthumus is himself welcomed 
home to the heart of Imogen, Posthumus in his turn be- 
comes the pardoner : — 

Kneel not to me ; 

The power that I have on yon ifi to spare yon ; 

The malice toward you to foigiye you ; live. 

And deal with others better. 

Hermione, Imogen, Prospero, — ^these are, as it were, 
names for gracious powers which extend forgiveness to 
men. From the first Hermione, whose clear-sightedness 
is equal to her courage, had perceived that her husband 
laboured under a delusion which was cruel and calamitous 
to himself From the first she transcends all blind re- 
sentment, and has true pity for the man who wrongs her. 
But if she has fortitude for her own uses, she also is able 
to accept for her husband the inevitable pain which is 
needful to restore him to his better mind. She will not 
shorten the term of his suffering, because that suffering 
is beneficent. And at the last her silent embrace carries 
with it — and justly — a portion of that truth she had 

uttered long before : 

How will this grieve you, 
When you shall come to clearer knowledge, that 
Tou thus have published me ! Gentle my lord, 
You scarce can right me throughly then to say 
You did mistake. 

Shakspere^s L ast Plays, 4 1 3 

The calm and complete comprehension of the fact is a 
possession painful yet precious to Hermione, and it lifts 
her above all vulgar confusion of heart or temper^ and 
above all imjust resentment. 

Imogen, who is the reverse of grave and massive 
in character, but who has an exquisite vivacity of 
feeling and of fancy, and a heart pure, quick, and 
ardent, passes from the swoon of her sudden anguish 
to a mood of bright and keen resentment, which 
is free from every trace of vindictive passion, and 
is indeed only pain disguised. And in like manner she 
forgives, not with self-possession and a broad, tranquil 
joy in the accomplished fistct, but through a pure ardour, 
an exquisite eagerness of love and of delight. Prospero's 
forgiveness is solemn, judicial, and has in it something 
abstract and impersonal. He cannot wrong his own 
higher nature, he cannot wrong the nobler reason, by 
cherishing so unworthy a passion as the desire of ven- 
geance. Sebastian and Antonio, from whose conscience 
no remorse has been elicited, are met by no comfortable 
pardon. They have received their lesson of failure and of 
pain, and may possibly be convinced of the good sense 
and prudence of honourable dealing, even if they cannot 
perceive its moral obligation. Alonzo, who is repentant, 
is solemnly pardoned. The forgiveness of Prospero is an 
embodiment of impartial wisdom and loving justice. 

A portion of another play certainly belongs to this 
latest period of Shakspere's authorship — a portion of King 
Henry VIII.* Dr Johnson observed that the genius of 

* Karl Elze, in his article '' Zu Heinrich VITI.*' (Shakespeare Jahr- 
bach, voL ix.), attempts to show, not snccessfolly, I think, that the 


414 Shakspere — His Mind and Art. 

Shakspere comes in and goes out with Queen Katharine. 
What then chiefly interested the dramatist in this de- 
signed and partly accomplished Henry VIII. ? The pre- 
sence of a nohle suflFerer, — one who was grievously wronged, 
and who by a plain loyalty to what is faithful and true, 
by a disinterestedness of soul, and enduring magnanimity, 
passes out of all passion and personal resentment into the 
reality of things, in which mudi indeed of pain remains, 
but no ignoble wrath or shallow bitterness of heart Her 
earnest endeavour for the welfare of her English subjects 
is made with fearless and calm persistence in the face of 
Wolsey's opposition. It is integrity and freedom from 
self-regard set over against guile, and power, and pride. 
In her trial-scene the indignation of Katharine flashes 
forth against the Cardinal, but is an indignation which 
unswervingly progresses towards and penetrates into the 

When a man has attained some high and luminous table- 
^ land of joy or of renouncement, when he has really tran- 
scended self, or when some one of the everlasting, virtuous 
powers of the world, — duty or sacrifice, or the strength of 

play was written in 1603, and "was set aside on account of Elizabeth's 
death, and kept there till Rowley brought out his ' Whm you See 
Me you Know Me ; or the famous Chronicle Historie of King Henrie 
the Eight,' in 1613. The Globe Company thereupon thought of their 
unused Henry VIII., put it into Fletcher's hands to alter, and then 
acted it." The portions of the play by Shakspere are Act i. Scenes 1 
and 2 ; Act ii. Scenes 3 and 4 ; Act iii Scene 2 (in part Shakspere) ; 
Act V. Scene 1 . Roderick, in Edwards' <' Canons of Criticism," (1765) 
noticed the peculiarity of the versification of this play. Mr Spedding 
and Mr Uickson (1850) independently arriyed at identical results as to 
the division of parts between Fletcher and Shakspere. Mr Fleay (1874) 
has confirmed t^e conclusions of Mr Spedding, (double-endings forming 
in this instance his dbief test) ; and Professor Ingram has further con- 
firmed them (by the weak-ending test). 

Shakspere's Last Plays. 4 1 5 

anything higher than oneself — has assumed authority 
over him, forthwith a strange, pathetic, ideal light is shed 
over all beautiful things in the lower world which has 
been abandoned. We see the sunlight on our neighbour's 
field, while we are pre-occupied about the grain that is 
growing in our own. And when we have ceased to hug 
our souls to any material possession, we see the sunlight 
wherever it falls. In the last chapter of George Eliot's 
great novel, Romola, who has ascended into Aer clear 
and calm solitude of self-transcending duty, bends tender- 
ly over the children of Tito, uttering in words made 
simple for their needs, the lore she has le€mit from life, 
and seeing on their faces the light of strajoge, ideal beauty. 
In the latest plays of Shakspere, the sympathetic reader 
can discern unmistakably a certain abandonment of the 
common joy of the world, a certain remoteness from the 
usual pleasures and sadnesses of life, and at the same time, 
all the more, this tender bending over those who are like 
children still absorbed in their individual joys and 

Over the beauty of youth and the love of youth, 
there is shed, in these plays of Shakspere's final 
period, a clear yet tender luminousness, not elsewhere to 
be perceived in his writings. In his earlier plays, 
Shakspere writes concerning young men and maidens, 
their loves, their mirth, their griefs, as one who is among 
them, who has a lively, personal interest in their concerns, 
who can make merry with them, treat them familiarly, 
and, if need be, can mock them into good sense. There 
is nothing in these early plays wonderful, strangely 
beautiful, pathetic about youth and its joys and sorrows. 

4 1 6 Shakspere — His Mind and A rL 

In the histories and tragedies, as was to be expected, 
more massive, broader, or more profound objects of interest 
engaged the poet's imagination. But in these latest 
plays, the beautiful pathetic light is alirajs present 
There are the sufferers, aged, experienced, tried — Queen 
Katharine, Prospero, Hermiona And over against these 
there are the children absorbed in their happy and ex* 
quisite egoism, — ^Perdita and Miranda^ Florizel and 
Ferdinand, and the boys of old Belarius. 

The same means to secure ideality for these figures, ao 
young and beautiful, is in each case (instinctively/ perhaps 
rather than deliberately) resorted to. They are lost child- 
ren, — princes or a princess, removed from the court, and 
its conventional surroundings, into some scene of rare, 
natural beauty. There are the lost princes — ^Arviragtis 
and Quiderius, among the mountains of Wales, drinking 
the free air, and offering their salutations to jthe nsen 
sun. There is Perdita, the shepherdess-princess, " queen 
of curds and cream," sharing with old and young her 
flowers, lovelier and more undying than those that Proser- 
pina let fall from Dis's waggon. There is Miranda, 
(whose very name is significant of wonder), made up of 
beauty, and love, and womanly pity, neither courtly nor 
rustic, with the breeding of an island of enchantment, 
where Prospero is her tutor and protector, and Caliban 
her servant, and the Prince of Naples her lover. In 
each of these plays we can see Shakspere, as it were, 
tenderly bending over the joys and sorrows of youth. 
We recognise this rather through the total character- 
ization, and through a feeling and a presence, than through 
definite incident or statement. But some of this feeling 

Shakspere's Last Plays. 417 

escapes in the disinterested joy and admiration of old 
Belarius when he gazes at the princely youths, and in 
Camillo's loyalty to Florizel and Perdita ; while it obtains 
more distinct expression in such a* word as that which 
Prospero utters, when from a distance he watches with 
pleasure Miranda's zeal to relieve Ferdinand from his task 
of log-bearing : — " Poor worm, thou art infected." * 

It is not chiefly because Prospero is a great enchanter, 
now about to break his magic staff, to drown his book 
deeper than ever plummet sounded, to dismiss his airy 
spirits, and to return to the practical service of his 
Dukedom, that we identify Prospero in some measure 
with Shakspere himself It is rather because the temper 
of Prospero, the grave harmony of his character, his self- 
mastery, his calm validity of will, his sensitiveness to 
wrong, his unfaltering justice, and with these, a certain 
abandonment, a remoteness from the common joys and 
sorrows of the world, are characteristic of Shakspere as 
discovered to us in all his latest plays. Fk'ospero is a 
harmonious and fully developed will. In the earlier 
play of fairy enchantments, A Midsummer Night's 
Dream, the " human mortals," wander to and fro in a 
maze of error, misled by the mischievous frolic of Puck, 
the jester and clown of Fairyland. But here the 
spirits of the elements, and Caliban the gross genius of 
brute-matter, — needful for the service of life, — ^are 

* The same feeling appears in the lines which end Act IIL Scene 1. 

Prospero, So glad of this as they I cannot be, 

Who are surprised with all ; but my rejoicing 
At nothing can be more. 

2 D 

4 1 8 Shakspere — His Mind and Art. 

brought under subjection to the human will of 

What is more, Prospero has entered into complete pos- 
session of himself Shakspere has shown us his quick 
sense of injury, his intellectual impatience, his occa- 
sional moment of keen irritability in order that we may 
be more deeply aware of his abiding strength and self- 
possession, and that we may perceive how these have 
been grafted upon a temperament, not impassive or 
unexcitable. And Prospero has reached not only the 
higher levels of moral attainment ; he has also reached 
an altitude of thought from which he can survey the 
whole of human life, and see how small and yet how 
great it is. His heart is sensitive, he is profoundly 
touched by the joy of the children, with whom in the 
egoism of their love he passes for a thing of secondary 
interest ; he is deeply moved by the perfidy of hia 
brother. His brain is readily set a-work, and can with 
difficulty be checked from eager and excessive energizing ; 
he is subject to the access of sudden and agitating 
thought But Prospero masters his own sensitiveness, 
emotional and intellectual : — 

We are such stuff 
As dreams are made on, and our little life 
Is rounded with a sleep. Sir, I am vexed ; 
Bear with my weakness ; my old brain is troubled : 
Be not disturbed with my infirmity ; 
If you be pleased, retire into my cell 
And there repose ; a turn or two 111 walk, 
To still my beating mind. 

* This point of contrast between The Tempest and A Midsnmmer 
Night's Dream is noticed by M^zidres : Shakespeare, ses (Euvres et ses 
Ciitiqaes, pp. 441-442. 

Skakspere's Last Plays. 419 

" Such stuff as dreams are made on." Nevertheless, 
in this little life, in this dream, Prospero will maintain 
his dream rights and fulfil his dream duties. In the 
dream, he, a Duke, will accomplish Duke's work. Hav- 
ing idealized everything, Shakspere left everything real. 
Bishop Berkeley's foot was no less able to set a pebble 
flying than was the lumbering foot of Dr. Johnson. 
Nevertheless, no material substance intervened between 
the soul of Berkeley and the immediate presence of the 
play of Divine power.* 

A thought which seems to run through the whole of 
The Tempest, appearing here and there like a coloured 
thread in some web, is the thought that the true freedom 
of man consists in service. Ariel, untouched by human 
feeling, is panting for his liberty ; in the last words of 
Prospero are promised his enfranchisement and dismissal 
to the elements. Ariel reverences his great master, and 
serves him with bright alacrity ; but he is bound by 
none of our human ties, strong and tender, and he will 
rejoice when Prospero is to him as though he never 
were-f To Caliban, a land-fish, with the duller elements 

* See a remarkable article on Goethe and Shakspere by Professor 
Masson, reprinted among his collected Essays. On The Tempest, the 
reader may consult as an excellent summary of facts, the article '* On 
the origin of Shakspeare's Tempest : '* OomhiU Magazine, October, 
1872. It is founded upon Meissner's '* Untersuchungen Uber Shake- 
speare's Sturm," 0^72). See also Meissner's article in the Jahrbuch 
der Deutschen Shakespeare-Gesellschaft, yoL v. Jacob Ayrer's 
"Comedia von der schonen Sidea," will be found, with a translation, 
in Mr Albert Cohn's interesting volume "Shakespeare in Germany." 
(Asher : 1865). 

t Ariel is promised his freedom after two days. Act i Scene ii. Why 
two days? The time of the entire action of The Tempest is only 
three hours. What was to be the employment of Ariel during two 

420 Shakspere — His Mind and Art, 

of earth and water in his oomposition, but no portion of 

the higher elements, air and fire, though he receives dim 

intimations of a higher world, — a musical humming, or a 

twangling, or a voice heard in sleep — to Caliban, service 

is slavery.* He hates to bear his logs ; he feara the 

incomprehensible power of Prospero, and obeys, and 

curses. The great master has usurped the rights of the 

brute-power Caliban. And when Stephano and Trinculo 

appear, ridiculously impoverished specimens of humanity, 

with their shallow understandings and vulgar greeds, this 

poor earth-monster is possessed by a sudden achwdrmerei, 

a fanaticism for liberty ! — 

'Ban, 'baa, Ca*-Caliban, 
Has a new master ; get a new man. 
Freedom, heyday! heyday, freedom I freedom! freedom, heyday 
freedom ! 

His new master also sings his impassioned hymn of 
liberty, the MarseiUaise of the enchanted island : 

Flout 'em and scout 'em. 
And Eoout ^em and flout 'em ; 
Thought is f rea 

The leaders of the revolution, escaped from the stench 

and foulness of the horse-pond, King Stephano and his 

prime minister Trinculo, l^e too many leaders of the 

people, bring to an end t&eir, great achievement on 

days 7 To make the winds and seas favourable during the voyage to 
Naples. Prosperous island therefore was imagined by Shakspere as 
within two days* quick sail of Naples. 

* The conception of Caliban, the " servant-monster," '^ plain fish and 
no doubt marketable," the "tortoise," *'his fins like arms," with "a 
very ancient and fish-like smell, '^ who gabbled until Proepeio taught 
him language — ^this conception was in Shakspere's mind when he wrote 
Troilus and Cressida, Thersites describes Ajax, (Act IIL Scene 3). 
*' JIe*s groum a very land-fisJi, languag^lew, a monster." 

Shakspere^s Last Plays. 42 1 

behalf of liberty by quarrelling over booty, — ^the trumpery 

which the providence of Prospero had placed in their way. 

Caliban, though scarce more truly wise or instructed than 

before, at least discovers his particular error of the day 

and hour : 

What a thrice-double ass 
Was I, to take this drunkaid for a god. 
And worship this dull fool ! 

It must be admitted that Shakspere, if not, as Hartley 
Coleridge asserted, " a Tory and a gentleman," had with- 
in him some of the elements of English conservatism. 

But while Ariel and Caliban, each in his own way, is 
impatient of service, the human actors, in whom we are 
chiefly interested, are entering into bonds — ^bonds of 
affection, bonds of duty, in which they find their truest 
freedom. Ferdinand and Miranda emulously contend 
in the task of bearing the burden which Prospero has 
imposed upon the prince : 

I am in my oondition 
A prince, Miranda ; I do think, a king : 
I would, not so I and would no more endure 
This wooden slayery than to suffer 
The flesh-fly blow my mouth. Hear my soul speak : 
The yery instant that I saw you, did 
My heart fly to your service ; there resides, 
To make me slave to it ; and for your sake 
Am I this patient log-man. 

And Miranda speaks with the sacred candour from which 

spring the nobler manners of a world more real and glad 

than the world of convention and proprieties and 

pruderies : 

Hence, bashful cunning ! 
And prompt me, plain and holy innocence I 
I am your wife, if you will marry me ; 

422 Shakspere-^His Mind and Art 

If not, 1 11 die your maid : to be your fellow 

You may deny me ; but I '11 be your servant 

W hether you will or no. 
Fer, My mistress, dearest ; 

And I thus humble ever. 
Mr. My husband, then? 

Fer. Ay, with a heart as willing 

As bondage e'er of freedom. 

In an earlier part of the play, this chord which runs 
through it had been playfully struck in the description 
of Gonzalo's imaginary commonwealth, in which man is 
to be enfranchised from all the laborious necessities of 
life. Here is the ideal of notional liberty, Shakspere 
would say, and to attempt to realise it at once lands us 
in absurdities and self-contradictions : 

For no kind of traffic 
Would I admit : no name of magistrate ; 
Letters should not be known ; riches, poverty, 
And use of service none ; contract, succession, 
Bourn, bound of land, tilth, vineyard, none ; 
No use of metal, com, or wine, or oil ; 
No occupation ; all men idle, all, 
And women too, but innocent and pure ; 
No sovereignty. 
Seb. Yet he would be king on 't.* 

Finally, in the Epilogue, which was written perhaps by 
Shakspere, perhaps by some one acquainted with his 
thoughts, Prospero in his character of a man, no longer 
a potent enchanter, petitions the spectators of the theatre 
for two things, pardon and freedom. It would be strain- 
ing matters to discover in this Epilogue profound sig- 

* Act ii. Sc. 1. — The prolonged and dull joking of Sebastian in this 
scene cannot be meant by Shakspere to be really bright and witty. It 
is meant to shew that the intellectual poverty of the conspirators is as 
great as their moral obliquity. They are monstets more ignoble than 
Caliban. Their laughter is " the crackling of thorns under a pot." 

Shaksperis Last Plays. 423 

nificances. And yet in its playfulness it curiously falls in 
with the moral purport of the whole. Prospero, the par- 
doner, implores pardon. Shakspere was aware — whether 
such be the significance (aside — ^for the writer's mind) of 
this Epilogue or not — that no life is ever lived which does 
not need to receive as well as to render forgiveness. He 
knew that every energetic dealer with the world must / 
seek a sincere and liberal pardon for many things. For- / 
giveness and freedom : these are keynotes of the 
play. When it was occupying the mind of Shakspere, 
he was passing from his service as artist to his service as 
English country gentleman. Had his mind been dwell- 
ing on the question of how he should employ his new 
freedom, and had he been enforcing upon himself the 
truth that the highest freedom lies in the bonds of 
duty ? * 

It remains to notice of The Tempest that it has had 
the quality, as a work of art, of setting its critics to 
work as if it were an allegory ; and forthwith it 
baffles them, and seems to mock them for supposing that 
they had power to " pluck out the heart of its mystery." 
A curious and interesting chapter in the history of 
Shaksperian criticism might be written if the various 
interpretations were brought together of the allegorical 

* Mr Fnmiyall, observing that in theae later plays breaches of the 
family bond are dramatically studied, and the reconciliations are 
domestic reconciliations in Cymbeline and A Winter's Tale, suggests 
to me that they were a kind of confession on Shakspere's part that he 
had inadequately felt the beauty and tenderness of the common rela- 
tions of father and child, wife and husband ; and that he was now 
quietly resolving to be gentle, and wholly just to his wife and his 
home. I cannot altogether make this view of the later plays my own, 
and leave it to the reader to accept and develop as he may be able. 

424 Shakspere — His Mind and Art, 

significances of Prospero, of Miranda, of Ariel, of Caliban. 
Caliban, says Kreyssig, is the People. He is Under- 
standing apart from Imagination, declares Professor 
Lowell. He is the primitive man abandoned to himself, 
declares M. M^ziferes ; Shakspere would say to Utopian 
thinkers, predecessors of Jean Jacques Rousseau, " Your 
hero walks on four feet as well as on two/* That Calihan 
is the missing link between man and brute (ShaksJ)ere 
anticipating Darwinian theories), has been elaborately 
demonstrated by Daniel Wilson. Caliban is one '6f ' the 
powers of nature over which the scientific intellect ob- 
tains command, another critic assures us, and Prospero is 
the founder of the Inductive Philosophy. Caliban is the 
colony of Virginia. Caliban is the untutored early 
drama of Marlowe.* • Such allegorical interpretations, 
however ingenious, we cannot set much store by. But 

* This last suggestion is that of M. Emile Mont^gut in the Remkt dea 
Deitx MoTides, The following passage from Professor Lowell will com- 
pensate for its length by its ingenuity. " In the Temped the scene is 
laid nowhere, or certainly in no country laid down on any map. No- 
where, then ? At once nowhere and anj'where, —for it is in the soul of 
man that still vexed island hung between the upper and the nether 
world, and liable to incursions from both. . . . Consider for a moment 
if ever the Imagination has been so embodied as in Prospero, the Fancy 
as in Ariel, the brute Understanding as in Caliban, who, the moment 
his poor wits are warmed with the glorious liquor of Stephano, plots 
rebellion against his natural lord, the higher Reason. Miranda is mere 
abstract Womanhood, as truly so before she sees Ferdinand as Eve be- 
fore she was awakened to consciousness by the echo of her own nature 
coming back to her, the same, and yet not the same, from that of Adam. 
Ferdinand, again, is nothing more than Youth, compelled to drudge at 
something he despises, till the sacrifice of will, and abnegation of self, 
win him his ideal in Miranda. The subordinate personages are simply 
types : Sebastian and Antonio of weak character and evil ambition ; 
Gonzalo, of average sense and honesty ; Adrian and Francisco, of the 
walking gentlemen, who serve to fill up a world. They are not charac- 
ters in the same sense with lago, Falstaff, Shallow, or Leontius ; and it 

Shakspere's Last Plays. 425 

the significance of a work of art like the character of a 
man is not to be discovered solely ,by investigation of its 
inward essence. Its dynamical qualities, so to speak, 
must be considered as well as its statical. It must be 
viewed in action ; the atmosphere it effiises, its influence 
upon the minds of men must be noted. And it is cer- 
tainly remarks^ble that this, the last or almost the last of 
Shakspere's plays, more than any other, has possessed 
this quality, of soliciting men to attempt the explanation 
of it, as of an enigma, and at the same time of bafliing 
their enquiry. 

If I were to allow my fancy to run out in play 
after such an attempted interpretation, I should de- 
scribe Prospero as the man of genius, the great artist, 
lacking at first in practical gifts which lead to material 
success, and set adrift on the perilous sea of life, in 

is canons how every one of them loses his way in this enchanted island 
of life, all the victims of one illusion after another, except Prospero, 
whose ministers are. purely ideal The whole play, indeed, 'is a succes- 
sion of illusions, winding up with those solemn words of the great 
enchanter, who had summoned to his service every shape of merriment 
or passion, every figure in the great tragi-comedy of life, and who was 
now bidding fareweU to the scene of his triumphs. For in Prospero 
shall we not recognise the Artist himself : — 

That did not better for his life provide 
Than public means which public manners breeds, 
Whence comes it that his name receives a brand — 
who has forfeited a shining place in the world's eye by devotion to his 
art, and who, turned adrift on the ocean of life in the leaky carcass of 
a boat, has shipwrecked on that Fortunate Island (as men always do 
who find their true vocation) where he is absolute lord, making all the 
powers of Nature serve him, but with Ariel and Caliban as special 
ministers ? Of whom else could he have been thinking when he says, 
Graves, at my command, 
Have waked their sleepers, oped, and let them forth, 
By my so potent art ? " 
Among ray Books. Shakespeare Once More, pp. 191-192. 

426 Shakspere — His Mind and A rt. 

which he finds his enchanted island^ where he may 
achieve his works of wonder. He bears with him Art in 
its infancy, — ^the marvellous child, Miranda. The grosser 
passions and appetites — Caliban — ^he subdues to his ser- 

Mir. Tis a viUAin, sir, 

I do not love to look on. 
Pros. But as *tis 

We cannot miss him. 

and he partially informs this servant- monster with intel- 
lect and imagination ; for Caliban has dim affinities with 
the higher world of spirits. But these grosser passions 
and appetites attempt to violate the purity of art. Caliban 
would seize upon Miranda and people the island with 
Calibans ; therefore his servitude must -be strict. And 
who is Ferdinand ? Is he not, with his gallantry and 
his beauty, the young Fletcher, in conjunction with whom 
Shakspere worked upon the Two Noble Kinsmen and 
Henry VIII ? Fletcher is conceived as a follower of the 
Shaksperian style and method in dramatic art ; he had 
" eyed full many a lady with best regard," for several 
virtues had liked several women, but never any with 
whole-hearted devotion eiccept Miranda. And to Ferdi- 
nand the old enchanter will entrust his daughter, " a thrid 
of his own Ufa" But Shakspere had perceived the weak 
point in Fletcher's genius — ^its want of hardness of fibre, 
of patient endurance, and of a sense of the solemnity and 
sanctity of the service of art. And therefore he finely 
hints to his Mend that his winning of Miranda fiiust not 
be too light and easy. It shall be Ferdinand's task to 
remove some thousands of logs, and pile them according 

Shakspere's Last Plays. 427 

to the strict injunction of Prospero. " Don't despise 
drudgery and dryasdust work, young poets," Shakspere 
would seem to say, who had himself so carefully laboured 
over his English and Roman histories ; " for Miranda's 
sake such drudgery may well seem light." Therefore, 
also, Prospero surroimds the marriage of Ferdinand to his 
daughter with a religious awe. Ferdinand must honour 
her as sacred, and win her by hard toil. But the work 
of the higher imagination is not drudgery, — it is swift 
and serviceable among all the elements, fire upon the 
topmast, the sea-nymph upon the sands, Ceres the god- 
dess of earth, with harvest blessings, in the Masque. It 
is essentially Ariel, an airy spirit, — the imaginative 
genius of poetry but recently delivered in England from 
long slavery to Sycorax. Prospero's departure from the 
island is the abandoning by Shakspere of the theatre, the 
scene of his marvellous works : — 

Graves at my command 
Have waked their sleepers, oped, and let them forth, 
By my so potent art. 

Henceforth Prospero is but a man ; no longer a great 
enchanter. He returns to the dukedom he had lost, in 
Stratford upon Avon, and will pay no tribute henceforth 
to any Alonzo or Lucy of them alL* 

Thus one may be permitted to play with the grave 
subject of The Tempest, and I ask no more^credit for 
the interpretation here proposed than is given to any 

* Ulrici has recently expressed Ids opinion that a farewell to the 
theatre may be discovered in The Tempest ; bat he rightly places 
Henry VIII. later than The Tempest, Shakespeare Jahrbach, vol. vi., 
p. 358. 

428 Shakspere — His Mind and Art. 

other equally innocent, if trifling, attempt to read the 
supposed allegory. 

Shakspere's work, however, will indeed not allow itself 
to be lightly treated. The prolonged study of any great 
interpreter of human life is a discipline. Our loyalty 
to Shakspere must not lead us to assert that the discipline 
of Shakspere will be suitable to every nature. He will 
deal rudely with heart, and will, and intellect, and lay 
hold of them in unexpected ways, and fashion his dis- 
ciple, it may be, in a manner which at first is painful, 
and almost terrible. There are persons who, all through 
their lives, attain their highest strength only by virtue 
of the presence of certain metaphysical entities which 
rule their lives ; and in the lives of almost all men there 
is a metaphysical period, when they need such supposed 
entities more than the real presences of those personal 
and social forces which suiround them. For such persons, 
and during such a period, the discipline of Shakspere 
will be unsuitable. He will seem precisely the reverse 
of what he actually; is : he will seem careless about great 
facts and ideas ; lijnited, restrictive, deficient in enthusi- 
asms and imagination. To one who finds the highest 
poetry in Shelley, Shakspere will always remain a kind 
of prose. Shakspere is the poet of concrete things and 
^ real. True, but are not these informed with passion 
and with thought ? A time not seldom comes when a 
man, abandoning abstractions and metaphysical entities, 
turns to the actual life of the world, and to the real men 
and women who surround him, for the sources of emotion, 
and thought, and action — a time when he strives to come 
into communion with the Unseen, not immediately, but 

Shaksperes Lust Plays. 429 

through the revelation of the Seen. And then he finds 
the strength and sustenance with which Shakspere haa 
enriched the world. 

" ' The true question to ask/ says the Librarian of Con- 
gress, in a paper read before the Social Science Convention, 
at New York, October 1869, ' The true question to ask 
respecting a book, is, -ffcw i< helped any human soul ? ' 
This is the hint, statement, not only of the great Literatus, 
his book, but of every great Artist. It may be that all 
works of art are to be first tried by their art-qualities, 
their image-forming talent, and their dramatic, pictorial, 
plot-constructing, euphonious, and other talents. Then, 
whenever claiming to be first-class works, they are to be 
strictly and sternly tried by their foundation in, and 
radiation, in the highest sense, and always indirectly, 
of the ethic principles, and eligibility to free, arouse, 

What shall be said of Shakspere's radiation through 
art of the ultimate truths of conscience and of conduct ? 
What shall be said of his power of freeing, arousing, 
dilating ? Something may be gathered out of the fore- 
going chapters in answer to these questions. But the 
answers remain insufficient. There is an admirable 
sentence by Emerson : "A good reader can in a sort 
nestle into Plato's brain, and think from thence ; but 
not into Shakspere's. We are still out of doors." 

We are stUl out of doors; and for the present let us 
cheerfully remain in the large, good space. Let us not 
attenuate Shakspere to a theory. He is careful that we 

• Whitman. Democratic ViBtas, p. 67. 

430 Shakspere — His Mind and Art. 

shall not thus lose our true reward ; " The secrets of 
Nature have not more gift of taciturnity." * Shakspere 
does not supply us with a doctrine, with an interpretation, 
with a revelation. What he brings to us, is this — ^to 
each one, courage, and energy, and strength, to dedicate 
himself and his work to that, — whatever it be, — which 
life has revealed to him as best, and highest, and most 

* Troilns and Cressida^ Ad iy., SeeM, 2.